Bossier Parish devastated by historic flood

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Photo courtesy of Sky Pixel LA | An aerial view of flooding during the March 2016 flood at Pecan Valley in south Bossier.

A slow moving weather system dumped more than 16 inches of rain in parts of Bossier Parish last week, forcing residents out of their homes as water reached historic levels.

The National Weather Service in Shreveport reported 18.84 inches of rain had fallen at Barksdale Air Force Base by Sunday, March 13. A total of 16.8 inches were reported at the Red River Research Station and 15.35 inches were reported in Koran.

Meteorologist Matt Hemingway said it’s not uncommon to see rain this time of year, but this was an exceptional event and one for the record books. He explained that this particular system was a combination of a cutoff upper level low and a stationary boundary positioned right over the area.

Courtesy of Michelle Meek | Collin, 6, and Alyssa, 2, standing on Bluebell Drive in the Golden Meadows subdivision in south Bossier.
Courtesy of Michelle Meek | Collin, 6, and Alyssa, 2, standing on Bluebell Drive in the Golden Meadows subdivision in south Bossier.

“It made sort of an axis of heavy rain that moved across the Toledo Bend area and moved north, covering all of northwest Louisiana,” he said. “We set many records along numerous lakes, rivers and bayous with this system.”

Heavy rains quickly flooded part of the Tall Timbers subdivision in Haughton. Water reached rooftops on Whispering Pine Drive, one of the first and hardest hit areas in the parish. Around 4 a.m. March 9 is when things completely changed.

Shawnte Chatman said she has only experienced water pooling in the yard during her nine year stay on Whispering Pine.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” she said. “I saw on the news that another subdivision had been evacuated in Haughton before I went to bed. I didn’t go to sleep until around midnight and I didn’t fear any water coming in because there wasn’t any by the door. My friend woke up, stepped out and saw the carpet was wet and saw there was about two inches of water on the floor,” she said. “In a matter of 15 to 20 minutes, it was almost knee deep.”

That’s when everyone evacuated through the front door. A gush of water spilled in as they left.

“We just had to make a quick run for it. There was no notice at all,”

The friend who was visiting happened to be driving a pickup truck, which was high enough to get them to safety. Chatman returned to her home Saturday, March 12, to begin the cleanup process.

“The water had gone all the way up to the shingles on the outside,” she said. “On the inside it stopped right before the roof.”

During the rush to leave Wednesday, Chatman was able to grab her dog, her child and a
laundry basket of clothes. She tried to take a box of family photos, but it was too heavy.

“We’re taking it one day at a time,” she said.

Just next door, Robert Golding was steadily cleaning out his home Saturday afternoon with help of friends and volunteers. Golding and his wife have lived in their home for 30 years and have seen flooding before, but nothing like this.

He said the levee and pump system located behind their home has worked “wonderfully” since it was installed.

“We’ve had many hard rains and challenges to the system and it has handled it well every time,” Golding said. “We knew the rain was coming and we watched it into the evening. We knew the reservoir area was getting full, but felt comfortable about it.”

Golding’s wife woke up around 4 a.m. on Wednesday as well.

“She said there’s water in the yard past the fence,” he said. “We have a post back there that we used to measure it.”

In a matter of minutes, Golding could tell the water was rising fast.

“At that point, we realized we needed to go into save mode,” he said.

The couple emptied out bottom drawers and picked everything up off the floor. They gathered things that would hold them over through one night away.

Little did they know the water would keep rising.

“We walked out the door and our cars were in the driveway, which we totally didn’t think about,” he said. “We got our truck out and across the street, but it flooded anyways. We got our van out, but our small car, at that time, already had in it and halfway up to the top of the hood.”

Golding said the water reached 53 inches in his home, measured by the water line on the back door. They were able to get back in their home Thursday after the water was pumped out. Golding said they started salvaging what they could.

The most uplifting part of this event is the amount of support they have received from the community.

“We believe in God’s help and helping other people. We also believe it’s a cycle that goes out and comes back in due time,” Golding said. “Our faith in God has manifested into our friends coming here and working hard, donations given to us, places to stay. It has been wave after wave of mercy and God’s grace that has been overwhelming for us.”

The Bossier Press-Tribune reached out to Bossier Parish officials to see if the levee and pump was working properly. Parish Administrator Bill Altimus said the pump was on and running during those early morning hours and there was not a breach in the levee.

“We had a guy out there at five o’clock in the morning and it was running. We think there was so much water coming out of Fifi Bayou that it over topped the whole thing and that’s what flooded it,” Altimus said. “To explain that amount of water in such a short amount of time, the only explanation we can come up with when we can’t find a breach is that the pump just got inundated with by a wall of water.”

Photo by Amanda Simmons/Press-Tribune | "Without those sandbags in place, the water would be topping the levee. There's no question about it."  Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington - March 12, 2016
Photo by Amanda Simmons/Press-Tribune | “Without those sandbags in place, the water would be topping the levee. There’s no question about it.”
Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington – March 12, 2016

In Louisiana, emergency officials said more than 4,958 homes were damaged. That number is expected to rise as more reports come in from areas still battling floodwaters. The National Guard said it had about 1,400 soldiers and air crews at work in flooded areas throughout Louisiana, deploying in high-water vehicles, boats and three helicopters. By Sunday morning, National Guard crews had evacuated more than 3,295 people and 316 pets as part of its round-the-clock operations.

The historic flood gained national attention as well. CBS News first spotted Carol Chavis through her window with her husband and two grandchildren in their Tall Timbers home. As they waited to be rescued, the water rose.

Before the sheriff’s deputies could reach them, neighbor Todd Eatman did on his boat.

“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” he said.

Eatman, too, lives on Whispering Pine Drive. Neighbors and friends helped build a wall around the front of his house and garage using about 300 sandbags.

“My wife woke up about 4:30 a.m., which is not uncommon for us. By that time, though, it was already too late to think about getting out in our car,” Eatman said. “Within 20 minutes, the Bossier Sheriff’s Office was riding down the street in a boat, knocking on doors to wake people up. No one here had any clue or idea that anything was happening. They were all asleep.”

Then someone showed up at his door. It was someone looking for help in the neighborhood. That’s when Eatman got in his 10-foot Jon Boat and went toward Carol Chavis’ house down the street.

“When you get into this kind of situation, there’s just so many overwhelming emotions that come up,” he said. “I didn’t know the people in the house. I just offered to help. Now I pray that we can all make it through this.”

Golden Meadows resident Cheryl Adams has been through it before. However, it was a complete shock to see the water creeping up the yard and reaching both the front and back door of their home on Gold crest Drive.

“It’s pretty bad and I’ve been through a flood before,” she said. “My husband and I are retired and we decided that if it came in the house, it was just material things. As long as our kids are safe and we are safe we will be okay.”

Adams, who decided not to leave her home during mandatory evacuation, was safely boated out with help from her neighbor March 11. She considers them lucky though many others have lost their homes.

“The south Bossier community has really come together to help people,” she said. “It has been great. This is a really good community to live in.”

Hemingway said there is more rain in the forecast this week, but does not look to be much.
“It looks like it’s going to be maybe a half inch to an inch of rain. That’s manageable considering what the area just went through.”