Thursday evening I left my classroom expecting to be back Friday morning. The coming flood was not even on my radar. I remember being on my way home and realizing I had left my wallet in my classroom; I thought, "I'm not going anywhere tonight. I'll just get it tomorrow." Friday morning, my runners started texting me asking if school was cancelled. It's amazing how fast they get information; I still hadn't gotten the call. When I finally did, I went straight back to sleep glad for an extra day of rest; bring on a three day weekend. Friday evening, the flood was becoming a bit more of a reality. Our principal sent out a text asking teachers to meet at the school Saturday morning to move the laptops to the second story. Still, I wasn't entirely concerned. It's south Louisiana. It rains a lot. They're probably just being extra cautious. Saturday morning, I headed up to the school with a friend in the steady rain. About 3 miles from the school I got a text telling teachers not to come, the roads were too flooded, and it's too dangerous. Whatever, I thought, I have a truck and I'll tough it out. I needed to get my wallet so I could by some groceries for this unexpected holiday. I drove about 200 more yards and became stuck in the rising water and the surge of vehicles trying to get to the interstate.
The ditches and parking lots along the road were already overflowing with water. It was nearly impossible to turn around, but the water was steadily rising and I realized if I didn't turn back now I would end up completely stranded in the middle of a highway that was quickly becoming the Amite River. My mood went from playful and determined to panicky and fearful. It took us about an hour to drive the 200 yards back to the other side of the interstate, and in that time we watched the water rise almost two feet. By the time we reached the interstate the water was up to the door handles on my truck. We made it back to my apartment and from my second story balcony watched the water rise quickly. By 4:00 that afternoon, the water was completely covering my parking lot and the power had gone out. And the rain continued to fall. We moved our vehicles up onto the sidewalk and watched helplessly as the water continued to rise. We woke Sunday morning to a series of eerie sounds. There were no birds chirping or kids playing. Car alarms were going off all across the complex from the water in the engines making faulty connections. There was a constant high pitched beeping sound as 22 building alarms tried to alert us that something wasn't right. Thank you technology; we noticed. There was 2 inches of water in my truck. We weren't going anywhere for a while.
For some reason I decided that I needed to know how many people were stranded in this complex with us. I grabbed my handy dandy chalk and began wading building to building in waist deep water asking the groups huddled on the stairs how many people were in their building, and then I wrote the number on the black shudders. 5 adults, 6 kids, 1 dog. "Hi, I'm Sarah; I live in building 4; how many people are in your building?" 12 adults, 9 kids, 2 dogs, 6 cats. "Hi, I'm Sarah; I live in building 4; I'm a teacher at the high school; how many people are in your building?" 26 adults, 12 kids, 1 dog, 1 bearded dragon. "Hi, I'm Sarah; I live in building 4; I'm a teacher at the high school how many people are in your building? Do y’all have food and water?" 32 adults, 10 kids, 1 infant, 1 dog. By the time I got the back of the complex I realized we had 250+ people stranded in this complex and we were running low on water. No one was prepared. We were going to have to work together. Someone pointed out the barbecue pits were still above water line. Lets cook all the food in the freezers. At least we can feed people. So I made the half-mile walk in waist deep water back and forth, back and forth hauling an ice chest full of frozen food and then full of cooked food. If we were all going to be stuck, at least we would be eating well. Those who could make the walk, gathered around the pool area and we became a united community, bonding over bacon wrapped dove, 46 lbs. of ground beef, and 1 case of water.
Monday, the water started receding, but we still couldn't drive out until Tuesday morning. The first thing we did as soon as we left the complex was head straight to the school. I needed to get my wallet and was curious about the school. I wasn't prepared for this flood, but I was even less prepared for what I saw as I entered the school. There was a slimy layer of mud across the floor and the stench was powerful. I nearly wiped out as I quickened my pace to my classroom door.
I could see through the window that books had floated all across the room. This was going to be bad. We couldn't get the door open. It had swollen inside the frame. I frantically began to pull on and beat against the door until it finally pried loose. I wasn't prepared. I maintained my composure during the flood because people needed my help; I had a purpose. Here in my soggy classroom with just my friend, I broke down.
This was my world. Now it's my wet world. Three and a half feet of water had washed through my classroom. Everything was ruined. The first thing I went searching for was my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. We don't even teach it in my class anymore but it is always on my desk to remind me of some valuable lessons. The book had belonged to two other teachers before me, one of those teachers was my mother. I opened the drenched novel and saw all of the handwritten annotations running from the page. It broke me.
I glanced around the room and noticed the 175 textbooks that were supposed to be distributed on Monday morning. They were so waterlogged that they had busted through their cardboard boxes. One bookshelf containing all of my young adult books also held my grammar books. Those grammar books had swollen so much that they broke the sides of the bookshelf and sent the young adult novels tumbling into the water. My classroom not only looked like a river had rushed through it, it looked like someone had gotten very angry and maliciously destroyed the room, turning over desks and chairs and scattering papers and planner.
I gathered the few sentimental items I could put my hands on and left my classroom. Three days before this, I was excitedly preparing for a new school year, but I left that day completely unsure about the future of my school, my town, or my students.