As floodwaters recede, the real work begins

Parish residents confront damage left in storm's wake

By Michelle Krupa
St. Tammany bureau/The Times-Picayune

Betty Van Sandt did not cry about the soaked brown carpet her grandson had to rip out of her Slidell home Friday, or about the fancy dresses in the closet that now have a water line at knee-level.

She did not scream at the southeast winds spawned by Tropical Storm Isidore that Thursday pushed 2 feet of Lake Pontchartrain's waters into her one-story home in the Palm Lake subdivision. And, after hiring a contractor Friday morning to rebuild the inside of the house, she still plans to invite the family over for Thanksgiving this year.

Van Sandt strode through her home Friday, focused on cleaning and rebuilding just hours after the water receded. Then she stopped to pick up her mother's old Bible, now sopping and blurred, from the bedroom floor.

"The water pressure opened our cabinet doors and just pushed everything out," Van Sandt said, her voice starting to shake as she tried to thumb the pages. "Oh God, the videotapes of the grandchildren doing their Easter egg hunts and at Christmas. They're all gone, too."

In more than 1,000 homes across St. Tammany Parish, residents swept water out of living rooms, garages and cars Friday, assessing damage in neighborhoods where no one expected an Isidore-related tidal surge and taking stock of the irreplaceable, priceless items swallowed by the flood.

Sharing the road with schools of fish, residents and police drove through more than a foot of water in some places to check out the hardest-hit streets near Bayou Liberty Road in Slidell, where an estimated 295 homes sustained water damage.

Slidell Mayor Ben Morris gave U.S. Rep. David Vitter, R-Metairie, a quick tour Friday afternoon of flood damage in Palm Lake.

"I am struck by how many people along the lakefront in Slidell, Mandeville and Lacombe have said that this was the first time their homes had ever flooded," Vitter said. "That's a very worrisome trend."

Disaster area

President Bush on Friday granted Gov. Foster's request to declare southeastern Louisiana a federal disaster area. The declaration means flood victims in St. Tammany, Orleans, Jefferson and St. Charles parishes may apply for federal grants and loans. Vitter said those seeking assistance should contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency at 1(800) 621-3362 or, for the hearing or speech impaired, 1(800) 462-7585 .

Foster's office said more than 2,000 homes and businesses flooded throughout the state. Storm-related costs for governmental entities totaled about $18 million, but no estimate was available on damage to private property.

Morris said flooding in Slidell could have been much worse because storm debris reduced drainage pumps at the City Barn near Front Street to about half their normal capacity.

"We came very close to having all of Olde Towne under water," Morris said.

Morris said he will seek financing for a $1.2 million raking machine to clear debris from a screen in front of the pumps. He said a second rake, estimated to cost $1 million, is needed for pumps at the Schneider Canal.

Cleanup under way

As of Friday afternoon, electricity had been restored to all but 15 St. Tammany Parish households where residents still had not cleared out water or where crews could not determine if it was safe to switch on the power, CLECO and Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative officials said.

Volunteers with the American Red Cross were staffing shelters at First United Methodist Church in Slidell and at the Lacombe fire station, and preparing two trucks to serve 2,600 meals to flood victims Friday and today.

Workers also expected roughly 2,400 disaster cleanup kits, including mops, disinfectant and buckets, to arrive in St. Tammany as soon as today. Residents who need assistance from the Red Cross should call 1(866) 438-4636.

Those who want to donate money to victims should visit a local AmSouth, Bank One, Hibernia National Bank, Iberia Bank, Parish National Bank or Whitney National Bank, or call the Red Cross at 1(800) 435-7669.

More water

While most parish residents spent Friday trying to retrieve what floated away, people who live near the Tchefuncte River north of Covington were bracing for more water. By Friday at 3 p.m., the river was swelling past flood stage, spilling into homes and closing streets around Tantella Ranch Road and Louisiana 1077, law enforcement and weather officials said.

Some camps along Louisiana 433 had minor flooding Thursday from the Lake Pontchartrain storm surge, as did the Salt Bayou Lounge and Pelican Seafood at the end of Salt Bayou Road southeast of Slidell. At the height of the surge Thursday, water was 1 feet deep in the streets of Rigolets Estates, an exclusive lakefront neighborhood in extreme southeastern St. Tammany.

"We're just trying to get the mud and debris out of the way so we can open again on Monday," said Maxine Mayeux, office manager for Pelican Seafood, a small crab processing plant.

Lacombe residents driven Thursday from their flooded homes along Lake Road began straggling back Friday, although most side roads were still under water.

In Mandeville, where the lakefront in the older section of the city was hard hit, Mayor Eddie Price said Friday that at least 40 houses sustained some degree of flood damage, which he said could end up topping $3.9 million, including business and residential losses, cleanup expenses and overtime pay for city employees.

Public works crews, aided by parish jail inmates, hit the streets early Friday to haul away debris, Price said.

Parish Council Chairman Joe Impastato, who represents Lacombe, said he expects damage in his area also to be heavy. "It is too early to make a damage estimate, but it looks like more than 150 homes in Lacombe south of the Tammany Trace took on floodwater and sustained damage," he said. "I suspect the tally is going to be significant.

"My first priority is to arrange for representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up an office in Lacombe as soon as possible so our flooded-out residents can start making applications for relief," Impastato said.

When the levee breaks

In the Dellwood, Lakeshore Village and Yester Oaks subdivisions near Slidell, where surging waters breached the Schneider Canal levee Thursday and sent water rushing through streets, few homes sustained significant damage. There was hardly any sign of high water Friday.

Just down Pontchartrain Drive and on Lakeview Drive, however, residents waded near the shore, collecting planks from walkways, piers and even entire houses wrecked by the storm.

Barbara O'Brien, a manager at Eden Isles True Value Hardware on Pontchartrain Drive, said about 75 people had been through the store by noon, buying mops, brooms, bleach, electrical and plumbing supplies, and batteries. Many customers seemed shocked at Isidore's effects, she said.

"A lot of them were really scared," O'Brien said. "I've never seen such fear. It really scared people because they saw the lake in the street."

Ron Barrosse, who has owned a camp on Lakeview Drive since 1995, said he had never seen strong winds and tidal surges like the ones that picked up his neighbor's vacation home from its foundation about 200 feet offshore and dumped it in a parking lot Thursday about 10 a.m.

Within 15 minutes of the terrifying scene, Barrosse ditched his plans to wait out Isidore in his elevated house and headed inland. But by Friday morning he was back, clearing wood and garbage from his property.

"It's the price you pay for living in paradise," he said.

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Staff writers Richard Boyd and Paul Rioux contributed to this report.

Michelle Krupa can be reached at or (985) 645-2853.


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