The time was around six o’clock in the evening on a Friday night when my phone rang. On the other end was my father-in-law and dedicated RAM volunteer, Ronnie Martin. He alerted me to the extensive flooding in Louisiana and said we might be asked to respond on behalf of RAM. There was no hesitation in my response, “Let’s go!”
Upon hanging up, I began second guessing my quick response. “What would it be like down there?” and “Would we be safe?” Louisiana was unknown territory for me, and the news stories of Hurricane Katrina were flashing through my head. There was also still the possibility Stan may not ask us to go. However, further reflection gave me the answer to my worries. On quite a few occasions at RAM we have to step out of our comfort zones. So, if we were asked to go, we had a responsibility to our fellow man to go help in any way we could.
On the following Sunday, while practicing a song that our choir was to perform that day, Ronnie walked in and said, “We’re going.”
Normally, the drive to Louisiana is a little under 10 hours, but due to road closures it took us 14 hours to get to McComb, Mississippi. The next day we woke up early and drove the rest of the way. Seeing the devastation was surreal. There were houses flooded up to the roof, as well as mattresses and appliances sitting out at the street awaiting their trek to a junkyard. Seeing a flood on television is moving, but seeing it in person is totally different. It is not easy to imagine what surviving a natural disaster would feel like. Around 80 percent of the people affected by the flood did not have flood insurance for their homes. Upon receiving this information, the natural question was, “Why?” Apparently, the majority of the affected areas were in “No Flood Zones” and there was no need for that type of insurance in Baton Rouge.
Quickly, we found out how hard it was going to be to get our boat in the water. We had received a donated boat which needs at least 12 inches of water underneath it to safely operate. There were many different places with that depth, but there were a lot of other details that couldn’t be overlooked. If we put the boat in at a certain place would the water depth change? Would we be able to get back to where we put the boat in? We also could not help but notice the majority of boats being used by locals had a flat bottom. We spoke to a few of them and asked if we would be able to get our boat in most of the areas, to which the resounding answer was, “No!”
The first day was over and we were supposed to be staying in the clubhouse of a subdivision, but when we arrived at the address we quickly felt extremely blessed. We stayed with Debbie and Doug Pacas. They have an extremely beautiful home and were very generous to allow us to stay there. It really helped to be able to get a good night’s rest.
The next day we decided to go back down to the same area as the day before in case we were needed to get more involved in the rescue process. We spent the majority of our time in Ascension Parish, which is made up of the cities of Donaldsonville, Gonzales and the town of Sorrento.
Later in the day we were made aware of someone needing help in Maurepas, which is part of Livingston Parish. The amount of rain Livingston Parish received was 25.52 inches, and it was very apparent as soon as we arrived. The majority of the area we were able to drive on was a two lane road with one lane blocked by water. We drove a few miles down the road and realized we had a problem. The water was so deep we could not get by in our vehicle, but water on both sides of the road was not deep enough to just put the boat in right there. So, unfortunately, we were not able to get the boat in the water.
While we were not able to actually rescue anyone in the donated RAM boat, we did figure out what we need for future disasters involving flooding. Hopefully, next time we will be better prepared and be able to make a difference. It was very frustrating to have to turn around and go home without actually using the boat for its intended purpose.
The trip did affect me in a way that may be hard to describe. Seeing fellow human beings attempt to save each other was amazing, especially when they weren’t waiting around on the government to come save them. In fact, it reinforces the thought that if we wait around on someone else to make our life better, we might be waiting a long time. Remote Area Medical helps people who cannot afford basic health care and have not been able to get the help they need from anywhere else. Would we be around if health care was more accessible or affordable? I spoke with a long time core volunteer once and posed the question, “What can you say about the rise of RAM from where it was when you started until now?” The volunteer stared me in the eyes and said, “I hope that one day we show up to a clinic and no one comes.” Amen! Let’s hope that one day we will experience that very thing.