The dead are literally crawling out of the ground and sailing away on their coffin ships.
Over a three day period, from August 10th to August 13th, some places near Baton Rouge, the capitol of Louisiana, received nearly three feet of rain. Sure sounds impressive, but just how much rain is that? It would take the city of Las Vegas, which averages just 4.17 inches of rain a year, EIGHT YEARS to get the amount of rain these Louisiana communities received over the equivalent of a long weekend! Or to throw out a mind-boggling number: 6.9 trillion gallons of water fell on the state of Louisiana over the course of a week.
Schools have been canceled, more than 100 state roads have been closed, at least 13 people have been killed, more than 40,000 homes have been damaged, and more than 10,000 people have been made homeless, the victims of a watery eviction that gave many folks little time to save anything but the clothes on their backs.
Goats have been rescued. Cats have been rescued. The Humane Society is rescuing dogs by the dozens. In one dramatic rescue last Saturday, two men on a boat pulled a woman from a car that was almost completely underwater, according to video by WAFB. “Oh my god, I’m drowning,” the woman yells from inside the car. Rescuer David Phung jumped into the murky brown water and pulled the woman to safety. She then pleaded with him to save her dog. The man, amazingly, went back underwater and retrieved the animal.
Even cows are being rescued.
“I…slogged through the water-covered blocks in their neighborhood,” wrote reporter Julie Dermansky, who visited some of the communities east of Baton Rouge hardest hit by the floods. “Ribbons of oily rainbow sheen were visible on the water, leaking from cars and other flooded appliances. I was careful to keep an eye out for snakes, red ants, and spiders as well…We found a cow that had lost its way, and was making itself at home on someone’s driveway.”
You can see a photo of the cow in Dermansky’s excellent photographs of the flooding here. What happened to the creature?
“…found people via Facebook who promised to rescue the cow as soon as they could find a way into the area,” wrote Dermansky. “It’s nice to walk away with even one small happy story.”
Meteorologists are calling the event a 500 year flood. Some are even calling it a 1,000 year flood, which almost puts it on par with Noah. One eerie phenomenon that has become familiar to south Louisiana residents during these flood events is that of coffins popping out of their tombs and crypts and floating away.
In Braithwaite, Louisiana, located in Plaquemines Parish, about 15 miles south of New Orleans, this happened during Hurricane Isaac, in 2012. “Hurricane Isaac floated the large often homemade concrete crypts out of the ground like tiny battleships and sent them crashing into boats and homes and other crypts,” I wrote, in a blog about the topic last year. “In some cases the concrete crumbled and the coffins were freed, and they sailed out across the deluge, beaching themselves in the middle of roads and along the grassy green slopes of levees and in front lawns too.”
In Plaquemines Parish, it is Sheriff’s Captain Mike Mudge that has been responsible for putting the tombs back together again and getting bodies back to their proper location:
“The process, honed by Mudge and his workers is like a morbid version of a child’s shape and sort game, though instead of plastic red and yellow squares, circles and stars, Mudge is dealing with rectangular crypts. Each crypt has its own footprint, explained Mudge, and by looking at the precise shape of the crypt, and the shape of the marks left in the ground back in the cemetery, Mudge can often connect which crypt floated from where. Still, the process is far more delicate than just placing pegs in their proper slots.
“You got to use the utmost discretion, because you are dealing with people’s loved ones and you got to handle them with dignity,” said Mudge. “This is not like the trash-man picking up trash on the side of the road, you are dealing with people, and here in Plaquemines it is people you probably know.”
That Louisianans are tightly connected by family and community lines to one another is a topic that has come up repeatedly in this latest flood. Many residents have criticized the mainstream media for ignoring the floods, while at the same time applauded local residents for stepping up to the plate to help one another.
“The tragedy,” wrote one writer, “is that strong, loving, cohesive communities, because of their strength and resilience, cannot be celebrated and assisted at the same time. That in order to be worthy of attention the very fabric of societal order has to have been sheered away; news media requires scenes that look like a zombie apocalypse, not scores of hometown heroes trying their best to rescue one another.”
A writer with the Dallas Morning News called on a friend’s Facebook post to offer a different theory as to why the floods have been largely ignored: “It’s not Katrina. It’s not a tropical storm; it doesn’t have a name. It’s just water – rising, spreading, devastating, stranding cars, homes, communities.”
Writer Rod Dreher, who lives in the Baton Rouge area, went to a local shelter with his son to help out and found the following scene:
“The people who came to my station were a picture of humanity. There were Vietnamese and Latino immigrants who barely spoke English. Black people. White people. Children. Lots of elderly. And you know, they were almost all unfailingly grateful. These were folks who had nothing left but the clothes on their backs, and what they were able to get onto the roof before the boat or the helicopter rescued them, but there they were thanking us volunteers for serving them food.”
And so while the caskets float up out of their tombs at St. Mark’s Cemetery, in Livingston Parish, and in other cemeteries across southern Louisiana, the citizens of the state are out to help. And surely, when the waters finally settle, there will be people to volunteer for that one additional odd but essential job: Putting the dead back in the ground.