Amanda Simmons, firstname.lastname@example.org
Homes that were once filled with happy family memories are now vacant reminders of how destructive Mother Nature can be.
A slow moving weather system in March 2016 dumped more than 30 inches of rain in Bossier Parish. Water reached rooftops on Whispering Pine Drive in Haughton’s Tall Timbers neighborhood, one of the first and hardest hit areas in the parish.
It was a weather event no one will forget. Bossier Parish Engineer Butch Ford vividly recalls seeing the devastation for himself in the early morning hours of March 9.
“I was at that subdivision around midnight driving through it to make sure everything was ok,” Ford said. “It rained 20 more inches in that area. I woke up to pictures of houses in Tall Timbers with eight feet of water in them. It scared the hell out of me.”
Many residents thought there was a breach in the levee or that the pumps had failed, sending water from the Fifi Bayou rushing into their homes. However, Ford said there was just too much water at once and the levee over topped.
“Everyone thought the levee was built to protect the homes so they would not flood and it was, but it was only for a 25-year flood event,” Ford explained. “We had a thousand year event. We had 30 inches of rain in five days. The weather forecast was incorrect and it rained more than they said it would.”
Within three days of the flood, FEMA was on the ground in Bossier Parish to survey the damage. Parish officials were told that if a home was in a flood zone and had over 18-20 inches of water in it, it was substantially damaged.
“We actually went out to Tall Timbers in groups and filled out substantial damage reports that they have to tell us what percentage of damage was done…anything over 50 percent is substantially damaged,” Ford said. “Because those homes were built below the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and they had three to eight feet of water in them, of course, every one of them was substantially damaged.”
Officials later met with homeowners to discuss their options. Bossier Parish regulation states, as per FEMA guidelines, that if a home is 50 percent damaged or more in one event or three events over a 10 year period, the parish can not allow the homeowner to move back into the home and that it has to be brought up to compliance or demolished.
“They could either elevate the home or they could participate in the Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant program or the Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant Program (FMA) with FEMA,” Ford said.
Many residents chose not to rebuild and lots still sit empty where their homes once stood. The Bossier Parish Police Jury has since authorized spending money for the acquisition and demolition of homes that had been approved for funding through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Several of the homes approved were located in Tall Timbers.
Under the FEMA mitigation program, homeowners received 75 percent of the pre-flood value of their home, Ford added.
“This is an ongoing process,” Ford said. “We just got approval to remove five or six more homes in there. As soon as FEMA tells us that we’re approved, then we’ll go through the process with those as well.”
So what will happen with the empty lots? Since there can not be any more homes or structures built on the land, the parish is looking to enhance the neighborhood’s aesthetics with a possible expansion of the Tall Timbers park.
“What the [Police Jury] wants to do is maybe put a walking trail in and extend the park on around there,” Ford said. “We’ll be talking to the parks and recreation department about that once we get all the homes demolished.”
It’s hard to say if another weather system of that magnitude will ever move through the area again, meaning it’s almost impossible to plan for one.
“We can’t predict the weather and we certainly can’t prevent it from happening, but by us buying these homes and removing them, we don’t have to worry about people drowning or water flooding their homes ever again,” Ford said.