Mold growing inside women's prison where floodwaters refuse to recede
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Nearly two weeks after torrential downpours left thousands of people without a home, there are still more than 1,000 female inmates who remain evacuated unable to return to their own prison. That's because the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel remains flooded.
At the front gates where usually there would be cars driving through, now, the only way around are military vehicles or a boat.
"This water is sitting here. It's not going anywhere," said Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.
LeBlanc said early last week, they were forced to evacuate all their inmates sending them to prisons across the state.
"This prison has been here since 1975 and never have we evacuated a state prison, much less the women's facility so this is a first in the history of our department that we have evacuated an entire state prison," LeBlanc said.
A tiger dam has been put up all along the main buildings where important documents are kept and even around the electrical building. A pump is pumping any water that's getting inside the buildings where the tiger dams are to try to keep those areas dry, but it's already in the main building.
"This is actually the front gate, after you come through with a vehicle, everybody passes through here to check in and get shaken in. This is where everybody comes in to the prison and now it's full of water," LeBlanc said.
Past the main building are the kitchen and dining areas, both have taken on water. Past that and the tiger dams, the water gets higher especially towards one of the dorms.
The very first dorm at the women's prison has been there since 1975. Walking down one of the wings, there are signs that the women were literally in the middle of playing cards when they had to pack up and be evacuated. But just below that table, there is mold that's started to grow.
Inside the cells, there is water everywhere and occasionally an inmate's shoe will float by.
"A lot of the offenders who live here, this is their home and they got evacuated like a lot of the free people," LeBlanc said.
Riding around to the other side, the water line on the building shows how little the water has gone down, only an inch or two. In some parts of the prison, the water is four to five feet deep.
In the upholstery, vocational training room, books are floating and the room sitting in water. Just next door in another room, there's mold growing on the ceiling.
"The ceiling tiles are starting to bubble just absorbing moisture and mold," LeBlanc said.
Not to mention the women's prison has one of three garment factories in the entire state. The one at St. Gabriel is the biggest.
"They make the linen, the sheets, the pillow cases, the jumpsuits, the clothing for the inmates," LeBlanc said.
The garment factory fortunately is not too bad and majority of the items are upstairs. LeBlanc said the earliest to get the women back working on the garments is at least two months. That's a financial loss of $300,000.
"The water has to get out of here, have to get the electrical back up and running, then we could possibly open up the garment factory," LeBlanc said.
On the way out of the prison, all these posts show you the depth of the water.
"This is going to be a challenge," LeBlanc said.
Officials are expecting for it to take at least four to eight months before the women can even come back into the prison. Anyone trying to locate a loved ones can go to www.doc.la.gov or call 225-383-4580.
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