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Dispatches from Louisiana’s 1000 year Flood

This was a disaster without a name. For weeks, I couldn’t tell really what to call it– “relief area”? “Flood zone”? It took some time for me to discover that people here have received as much damage, financially and emotionally, as Hurricane Katrina. But because the impact wasn’t in such a famous city, because it wasn’t such an isolated event, it hasn’t received the same national coverage. People aren’t sure how to talk about it. Locals here have started calling it “The Great Flood”, or taking a tip from climatologists, their “1000 Year Flood.”

This is Dietrich McGaffey and I am here with Burners Without Borders in Louisiana. I’ve worked with BWB in Chicago and on Playa– organizing events and fundraisers, and operating the mobile kitchen at the BWB BRC camp. In complete honesty, this is my first time working in a disaster area like this. I am taking a risk (and one that might fail) to try to recruit my fellows into action. We’ve had some success locating partner organizations and finding potentials for resources. Nonetheless, I’m a little mixed up today and feeling the emotional effects of being in this field. Like the weekend I spent at the refugee camp called the Jungle in Calais, this is a little more than I can express effectively.

This Labor Day weekend, I went out into the muck with some new friends and collaborators. On Sunday, co-lead Daniel Cappy and I met with a team of NoLa restauranteurs and bar owners informally calling themselves the New Orleans Hospitality Group– Sarah Manosharc the Spitfire bar & April Boudreaux of Killer Poboys in NoLa’s French quarter, as well as educator Leah Sarris of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine. We went to Goldring’s expansive kitchen to prep and cook, diverting some leftovers from their nutrition classes into a delicious vegan chili while others made an apple/pear/peach sauce and pounded out something like a zillion PB&Js. On Monday, I met up with Leah, Sarah, April and April’s mother to go out into the Walker and Dunham Springs area– hit hard, but small enough not to be receiving adequate attention from FEMA and American Red Cross. (We stopped by a FEMA field office that had just set up three days ago. Mind you flooding started August 12th).

Preparing food for delivery

We scoped out some operations working in the area– a mold abatement center operated by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Fleet, an animal shelter, the FEMA office, several churches. Many places in Walker seem to be shoring up well, so we headed further west towards Denham Springs, which received much more impact and damage. After significant detours from two collapsed bridges, we landed at Life Church Walker on the border between the two towns. What an awesome center of activity! This church and school has converted its gymnasium into a donations center that is stacked with shelves almost to the ceiling with food, cleaning supplies, toiletries and hygiene products, bedding and sleeping bags, clothing, and first aid. They host volunteers onsite at the church where they have bunks and showers, and fill work requests from folks hit hardest by the floods in their area.


Life Church gave us some addresses for places that could really use some assistance– “Red Cross is afraid to go in!”– and helped us fill our two cars to the brim with mold abatement kits, food, and other supplies for us to distribute. We spent the next few hours in these two neighborhoods, knocking door to door and looking for people who could use cleaning materials immediately. Interestingly, they pointed us primarily to trailer parks as zones that have a dense population, received lots of damage, and are simultaneously not receiving very good public services.


The results are clear: People are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, sad, outraged, desperate, and more all at the same time. It doesn’t even make sense to start a conversation with “How are you?” anymore because, fucking duh, it’s pretty awful, and how are you, sir? What do you do when 100% of your belongings are not just trash, but toxic to your health from sewage, mold, and fungus? When you have to give up home and shelter? Give away your family pet?


We talked with an elderly woman sleeping in a one person tent in her front yard because she wasn’t capable of the cleaning effort. We spent some time with a woman recently discharged from the hospital without any more insulin medication. Gave supplies to a Latino father caring for sixteen people with nowhere else for his family to go. These stories multiply at every turn.

Louisiana will need support for many months to come. Please don’t just like this post, don’t just share it. By which I mean, Do share! Don’t just be a clicktivist or hashtag activist. Find some action to participate in your community. So many things are going crazy in the world right now– flooding here in LA, the DAPL protest, earthquakes in Oklahoma and Italy. We do not need your thoughts and prayers, your likes and shares. We need your action. What are you doing this weekend?

If you’d like to volunteer, please go to the BWB Louisiana Flood Web Page and fill out our volunteer form.

We look forward to hearing from you!



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