Homes are ru­ined, schools are closed and fam­i­lies face un­cer­tain fu­tures

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NATION & WORLD - By Michael Kun­zel­man and Kevin McGill

DEN­HAM SPRINGS, LA. >> Michelle Par­rott’s chil­dren hear thun­der when there is no storm. When rain does fall, they ask their mother if the flood­wa­ters are ris­ing again.

In flood-rav­aged pock­ets of South Louisiana, men­tal scars are al­ready show­ing on the youngest vic­tims of a dis­as­ter that prompted more than 30,000 res­cues and left an es­ti­mated 40,000 homes dam­aged.

Chil­dren who en­dured har­row­ing res­cues are re­turn­ing home to a jar­ring land­scape that even their par­ents can scarcely grasp: Homes filled with ru­ined pos­ses­sions need to be quickly gut­ted. Scores of dam­aged schools and day care cen­ters are closed in­def­i­nitely. Par­ents jug­gling jobs and cleanup work must also line up care­tak­ers for their kids.

Par­rott, her hus­band and her six chil­dren, ages 6 to 17, have slept in cars, a shel­ter and a ho­tel room in the week since they had to be res­cued by boat. The flood­ing wrecked their home in Liv­ingston Parish, where one of­fi­cial has es­ti­mated that three-quar­ters of the res­i­dences are a to­tal loss af­ter more than 2 feet of rain fell in three days.

“The emo­tional toll on the kids has been heavy. They’re all in a bit of shock and stress and hav­ing melt­downs and tantrums,” Par­rot said. “Try­ing to get back into their rou­tine is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult when we don’t know what the fu­ture holds for us.”

Rou­tines are par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for her 17-year-old son, Blake, who is autis­tic and at­tends spe­cial-needs classes at one of the many Den­ham Springs schools dam­aged in the floods.

“He feels un­safe con­stantly. He’s had a lot of break­downs,” she said. “We’ve had trou­ble get­ting his med­i­ca­tions in. The ther­a­pist flooded, so he’s lack­ing the emo­tional sup­port he needs from pro­fes­sion­als.”

Par­rott home-schools her other five chil­dren, but she watched more than $10,000 in school ma­te­ri­als float away. “I have to start over,” she said. Thir­teen deaths have been at­trib­uted to the storm and its flood­ing, and nearly 4,000 peo­ple re­main in shel­ters.

But signs of re­cov­ery emerged Fri­day.

Gov. John Bel Ed­wards an­nounced that FEMA will start pay­ing for ho­tel rooms for storm vic­tims stay­ing in cars, ho­tels, shel­ters or their work­places. A dis­as­ter food stamp pro­gram will be­gin Mon­day. And the state in­tends to start con­sol­i­dat­ing shel­ters this week­end as more of the dis­placed re­turn home or find other places to stay.

The floods hit just as the school year was start­ing in many dis­tricts, rem­i­nis­cent of how Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina abruptly ended a New Or­leans school year that had barely be­gun in 2005.

For most par­ents in the flood zone this week, pa­tience is their only op­tion. Some school dis­tricts, in­clud­ing in East Ba­ton Rouge Parish, are mak­ing plans to re­open their doors next week.

But in Liv­ingston Parish it could take sev­eral weeks, maybe even months.

Bon­nie Nas­tasi, a pro­fes­sor at Tu­lane Univer­sity in New Or­leans spe­cial­iz­ing in school psy­chol­ogy, said ad­dress­ing the dis­rup­tion of chil­dren’s lives is as im­por­tant as help­ing them with the ini­tial trauma they ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the flood­ing. Many had to be res­cued in the dark­ness of night, plucked from their homes and packed to­gether in crowded shel­ters.

“Re-es­tab­lish­ing the rou­tine of school is go­ing to be im­por­tant for chil­dren. If they can re­sume nor­mal rou­tines, that helps them to feel more safe and more se­cure,” Nas­tasi said.

Liv­ingston Parish Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Rick Wentzel said about onethird of the district’s schools sus­tained some sort of flood dam­age. Many teach­ers lost their homes and are cop­ing with trauma of their own.

“These teach­ers are go­ing to be able to sym­pa­thize with these kids be­cause they ex­pe­ri­enced the same things,” he said. “We’re go­ing to get back. It won’t be long.”


Sgt. Chad McCann of Deville, La., brings a young child to a wait­ing UH-60 Black Hawk to be taken to safety af­ter flood­wa­ters threat­ened his home in South Louisiana. More than 3,000 Louisiana Na­tional Guard mem­bers are still en­gaged in flood re­sponse ef­forts.

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