Triumph, heartbreak intersect at Central neighborhood one year after historic flood

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

CENTRAL, LA (WAFB) - The images of the countless water rescues are unforgettable as children, the elderly, and animals were plucked from their homes in Central. They serve as vivid reminders of the Friday morning when flood waters swallowed up parts of the Jackson Park subdivision.

"It was shock," said Jamie Harding. "I mean just disbelief you know. I've never experienced anything like that. I've never been through a flood or anything like that."

Jamie and Liz Harding say they will never forget the panic and fear that washed over them that day as flood waters rose around their Red River Avenue home. Those raw emotions took hold of their family of four almost immediately.

"It's still unbelievable," said Liz. "Whenever I look and see how high the water had gotten and even as it was happening, I just expected it to stop like it wasn't going to be a big deal and it just kept coming up."

Liz says if it was not for her two small kids, she is not sure if she would have been able to get in the boat and hold it together while leaving her home of 8 years, not knowing what she would find when she returned.

"The kids were freaking out so I was just really trying to calm them down," said Liz. "I was trying to be like it's not a big deal, we'll be okay, we're good and we're safe."

Luckily Jamie's dad who lives a neighborhood over did not flood so the couple and their kids had a place to go after the water receded. They started their temporary living arrangement while diving face-first into the rebuilding process. They chose to subcontract the entire project themselves.

"Looking back at it now, I'm glad we did it but I'm glad we're not doing it now because it was a fiasco," Jamie added.

They have been back in their home for a month now. With Jamie busy doing yard work, Liz walking around her picture perfect kitchen making dinner and the kids playing it is hard to believe just months ago the house was a wreck.

"We still have holes in the ceiling. We still have a lot stuff to do but we're perfect we're good," said Liz.

While the to-do list is far from finished, the Hardings hope to be fully recovered by Christmas. They consider themselves lucky but say they cannot help but think about so many of the people who are not.

"We just you know consider ourselves very fortunate and blessed to.. to have some place to be," said Jaime.

Right across the street from the Hardings Felicia Baker, her husband and 4-year-old son are still living in a camper parked in the front yard of their Ticfaw Drive home.

"We're kind of all different levels of hell," Baker admitted. "It seems like everybody's home but us you know and I know that it's not really that way but it's emotionally, I think that's the hardest part."

Her family did not evacuate and without any other options were actually forced to live in their flooded home for seven months. It was not until March that a family member loaned them their temporary home.

"It's stressful for even the strongest person. Your faith gets tested and your marriage gets tested," said Baker.

Living in such a cramped space is not easy and the family of three has had to get creative for the simplest of tasks. They converted the camper's small bathroom into a makeshift closet. When they need to use the bathroom or shower; however, they have to trek across the yard and into the flooded home and even that bathroom, which is missing a sink, still needs work.

"What they left us to work and what they left us to live in… it's just gross," Baker said. "This is horrible."

The Bakers, like so many families in south Louisiana, say they were taken for a ride by a contractor and the past year Felicia says has been one problem after another.

From hollow flooring to dips in her ceiling and electrical work left undone, she says the contractor took on more projects than he could handle and her home paid the price.

"None of the phases have been finished because it's just wrong," said Baker. "Almost all of it is wrong."

Baker says they got about $60,000 from the insurance company and gave the contractor 60 percent to get the ball rolling on her home. Nearly a year later, they are now tangled in a legal fight while their home sits unfinished.

"It's filthy and it's horrible," Baker said. "You can't really see it being your home again you know.. so it's hard."

While some days are harder than others, Baker admits the worst day came just a few weeks ago when a strong storm hit. Feeling unsafe in the camper, she loaded up and drove to a store parking lot. While her son did not realize what was happening, she says the weight of having no safe place to go came crashing down.

"It's like a second devastation so yeah it's hard. It is hard," Baker said.

Baker says the past year has tested her marriage, her sanity and even her faith. Through it all though, with bible verses written in the flood-damaged walls, her family is taking it one day at a time and holding out hope for anything that can offer them some relief.

"You just pray and you just have to believe in God that eventually through this trial there's going to be a rainbow you know," she said.

Triumph and heartbreak both meet at the intersection of Red River Avenue and Ticfaw Drive in Central but while everyone's struggle in the city is different, the people there are not giving up and a year later say they will never forget August 2016.

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