A street in Hammond, Louisiana, is lined with items damaged by record floods in the area. Photo courtesy of Dean McNeal

Brotherly Love: Area Natives Help During Louisiana Floods

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Editor’s Note: Donations for the Louisiana flood victims in the Hammond area can be made at Athens High School until Sept. 1. Donations can also be sent to the Westchurch Church of Christ. Checks can be made out to the Westchurch Church of Christ with “disaster relief team” on the memo line. Donations can also be made to the American Red Cross and the United Way of Southeast Louisiana.

HAMMOND, La. — On Thursday night, Dean McNeal was helping a friend move a couch out of his waterlogged home. Flooding in his Louisiana town had caused more obstacles than normal in the move.

“We were walking through a pile of human waste to get this couch out, and that’s what it’s like here,” McNeal said.

A street in Hammond, Louisiana, is lined with items damaged by record floods in the area. Photo courtesy of Dean McNeal
A street in Hammond, Louisiana, is lined with items damaged by record floods in the area. Photo courtesy of Dean McNeal

The Gallipolis native has been helping friends and neighbors for days since major rainfall hit his home and homes for miles around him.

The home he shares with his wife and daughters was without electricity for three days and a commute to his house that normally takes about 30 minutes took nearly three hours when the flooding began.

From Athens, McNeal’s brother, Paul, has been collecting donations and supplies to bring to his brother’s community. Paul McNeal, now the girls basketball coach at Athens High School, lived in the same area for several years, coaching people he knows are now displaced from the disaster area.

“The daughter of someone I coached with slept on the roof of their house waiting for help,” Paul McNeal said. “I know of at least six former players or former coaches who have lost everything.”

According to media outlets, an estimated 40,000 homes have been damaged by the flooding and at least 11 people are dead. Reports state that almost two feet of water came down on the affected parishes in Louisiana.

“There’s no way that I can explain to you how much water there is down here,” Dean McNeal told WOUB as he tried to get to his home in Hammond.

The rain didn’t come all at once, but once it started, it didn’t stop.

“Take a tsunami and put it in slow motion,” he said. “That’s kind of what it was like.”

Dean McNeal lives on a slight hill at the end of his dead-end street, which allowed his house to be mostly spared of water, but it also made his home an island after the flooding hit.

“I looked out on Friday morning and there was one body of water on the back side of my house and another in the front yard,” McNeal said.

Flood damage in Hammond, Louisiana. Photo courtesy of Dean McNeal
Flood damage in Hammond, Louisiana. Photo courtesy of Dean McNeal

Like many of his neighbors, McNeal does not have flood insurance. About a year ago, his insurance agent told him the area where he lived was at low risk of a flood, so he took his agent’s advice and cancelled it.

“But the way the land is here, 50 yards in one direction and 25 yards in the other direction, those houses are in flood zones,” he said.

In one subdivision of 200 homes where he was helping clean up, he could only come up with two homeowners who had flood insurance.

Cell phone service is still spotty, electricity is being run through generators in much of the area, and supplies for the residents of the Louisiana towns is desperately needed, McNeal said.

Residents are applying in droves for aid of up to $33,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but while they wait, they face huge clean up and long waits for supplies like cleaners, diapers, food and water.

Gas is a hot commodity because tanks and stations in the area were contaminated by flood water, so getting to areas where they can get supplies is difficult. Water damage and mold are becoming the newest issues for those in the area.

“Family photos are soaked with water, everything you own is soaked with water,” Dean McNeal said.

Schools are shut down indefinitely, businesses have closed because their employees are still helping dig out from the damage.

“When we’ve had floods in the past, people who didn’t get flooded would come out on boats and help out but also they were sightseeing a little bit,” McNeal said. “Now people that were out sightseeing, they’re running for their lives to save their homes.”

National officials, like President Barack Obama, are starting to make trips down to the flood zones, but the residents are concerned about what they see as a lack of coverage in this disaster compared to what they saw during Hurricane Katrina. Paul and Dean McNeal were there for Katrina as well.

“The whole thing is hard to swallow, but…it feels like it’s not enough drama (for extensive media coverage),” Dean McNeal said. “My feet have been waterlogged for days and I’ve got fire ant bites all over me, but I’m getting out and helping.”

He has been spending most of his time helping friends move couches and dry out whatever they can from their houses. More recognition needs to be given to the people that are doing what they can, despite their own circumstances, McNeal said.

“We have people helping us and heroic acts are happening every day,” he said. “Those are the people that should be getting the publicity.”

For now, the people of Hammond and the surrounding area are just waiting. Waiting for the water to fully recede, waiting to see what their homes look like, waiting for federal aid and waiting to see what they can salvage.

In the meantime, Dean McNeal said clothes will be needed, along with cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products and money for generators and power washers.

Though his hometown in Ohio saw very little flooding compared to what his community is dealing with, McNeal said he knows his state can get the support it needs.

“I know that the people in Ohio, if they knew what was going on down here, they would be helping,” he said.

Paul McNeal plans to take a trip there in two weeks to buy supplies and bring what has already been donated. Donations are being taken at The Plains Fire Department on Connett Road on Monday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.