As we follow news of the massive flooding in Louisiana, we focus our attention on a small church and its parishioners who have been affected.
While residents of Louisana are generally used to rain, hurricanes, and the occasional flood, nothing has prepared them for this year's flooding in the southern half of the state. The raw facts are staggering:
- 60,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed
- 160,000 families affected
- 6.9 trillion gallons of rainfall in one week
- Historic occurence of a flood this size: 500 years
- 31.5 inches of rainfall in one community in one day
With these global numbers in mind, we have been in contact with our two parishes in Louisiana that have been affected, Our Lady of Sorrows in Baton Rouge, and Our Lady of Grace in Kenner (New Orleans). If you attend these parishes, please take note of the new temporary mass times and locations. We have posted them on our chapels pages, as well as at the end of this article.
We spoke on the phone with the parish coordinator at Our Lady of Sorrows in Baton Rouge, to get a sense of the conditions on the ground in his town and at our parish.
Impact to Our Parishioners
That we know of so far, four of our families' homes were severely damaged or destroyed. One unfortunate family had five feet of water in their home for almost a week, causing the sheet rock to simply desintegrate. They returned to the awful site of their home's contents in a massive, mildewed heap, coated in the gypsum board. Our families are, as one would expect, typically large, causing chaos and hardship especially on the children at the start to an academic year.
Of our four parishioners who were so greatly impacted, three had no flood insurance - a logical financial choice, given the extraordinarily slim probability (the 500-year time period mentioned above) that a flood would hit their given location. Our fourth family did, thankfully, have coverage, but it seems not for their contents. While here at the District House we have no particulars about their situations, we can only surmise that this act of God will cause a near-total financial loss for these families.
In the coming days, we will be setting up guidelines for those who have the means and desire to assist these families, and to hopefully mitigate their hardship. And while financial charity is a necessary thing, we also ask for your spiritual charity, to give these families the strength, resilience, and acceptance to work through this trial - truly not unlike that of Job in the Old Testament.
A historic flood
Beyond the parishioners mentioned above, there is almost no one in the town of Baton Rouge who isn't affected in some way or another. If a family has been fortunate enough to stay in their home, they know 5 other families who are displaced. This flood has been called the "500 Year Flood", due to its breadth and far-reaching effects. Areas that have never flooded before are under several inches, even feet of water. For this reason, the infrastructure - and even the earth itself - is simply not equipped to handle the massive quantities of water, causing the floodwater to slowly rise and backfill to an even-larger footprint.
Families who live near the rivers were struck with the initial flooding as expected, then moved back to repair the damage - but this flood doesn't just hit once. Water flowing from other areas will arrive a second, or third time, causing extensive damage and even multiple evacuations. To understand the dynamics at play, imagine a baking dish half-filled with water slowly tipping back and forth. The groundwater is acting very similarly in this low-lying state, struggling to find an equillibrium, and flooding as it goes. Beyond this, the water that is flooding most areas is drainage water, backwater, or sewage; not just silty river water.
Impact at Our Lady of Sorrows
It is in this environment that Our Lady of Sorrows parish found itself, and it was not spared the flood. The entire area was closed to traffic, so it was not for several days that parishioners were able to re-enter and see that the water had risen 6 inches into the church. While the exterior and some interior walls are brick, and have remained undamaged, the same cannot be said for the interior.
All the flooring has been ripped out, and anything that was below the water level and was not solid wood or metal is destroyed. The carpet runner up to the sanctuary had to be cut into pieces and drug off it was so heavy with saturated water. Sheet rock and paneling has been cut out at the two-foot mark to prevent mold growth. Anything that was stored on the floor has been destroyed, including potentially two pianos and an organ that was mid-repair.
A major concern was the more than century-old altar. While it was raised above the floor on three steps as is traditional, the platform's interior supports and insulation were completely saturated, causing fears that the altar would have to be disassembled and moved - something no one had done in the parish's memory. Thankfully, the flood's damage had a bright spot - the ability to easily access the space through the back wall of the sanctuary, via the anterior rooms.
In other rooms of the church building, the same damage was experienced. File cabinets for parish records have begun to rust, not to mention the contents inside. The sacristy cabinets and vestment drawers had to be removed or cut. Many of the vestments and other liturgical items were also impacted; even if one cassock was dipping into the water, it would wick up the length of the garment, and soak into other items. Thankfully, these items can be cleaned and the parish anticipates they will be mostly undamaged in the long term.
In short, throughout the entirety of this rather large building, measuring 40 by 120 feet, almost everything that was on or near the ground has been destroyed.
However, in this damage and desolation, Our Lady provided two bits of consolation to her parish. First, the coordinators were able to call professional cleaning and flood restoration services early enough before they were engaged in other areas, giving the parish a jump start in regards to clean up. Massive professional-grade air movers were just removed today after several days of constant use, the building has been stabilized, and is now mostly dry. Barring another unforseen rise in water, the church has survived its worst.
Second, and most importantly, the parish just renewed its insurance, with complete flood coverage. While the claims and adjustment period may yield any result, there is anticipation that the structural repairs and most of the contents will be under the coverage.
It is with this sense of consolation in the midst of a tragic circumstance that we request your prayers for our parishes and families, and humbly ask Our Blessed Mother for her continued intercession.
Revised Mass Times & Locations Until Further Notice
Our Lady of Sorrows
Sunday Mass at 7:00AM with confessions 45 min prior to Mass
Temp. Mass location:
Resthaven Funeral Home
11817 Jefferson Highway
Baton Rouge, LA 70816
KENNER (New Orleans)
Our Lady of Grace
Sunday 1 Mass at 10:30AM