The week of Aug. 7 was rainy and dreary, which is typical of summer in South Louisiana. What wasn’t typical was how the rain really never seemed to stop.
On Aug. 12, the Louisiana Joint Operations Center began to receive high water vehicle support requests to assist with search and rescue in Livingston Parish. The 159th Fighter Wing emergency manager was notified of the situation, and the Air National Guard was initially tasked to support with eight high water vehicles and 16 personnel for an expected 10-hour timeframe.
The mission deactivated at 2 a.m. Aug. 13, and we went to bed expecting the water would be down later that morning. By 6 a.m., we realized how wrong we all were, as the entire state National Guard was put on high alert. At 7 a.m., seven members from the 159th Fighter Wing Emergency Management Office were called in to fully activate the Louisiana ANG Emergency Operations Center and Mobile Emergency Operations Center to begin what would be a 35-day emergency response operation.
A stationary mesoscale convection system, which is a series of large thunderstorms that does not meet tropical cyclone criteria, dropped 6.9 trillion gallons of rain across South Louisiana, causing flash floods. By Aug. 15, eight rivers had exceeded record flood levels. Livingston Parish received 31 inches of rain and Baton Rouge 19 inches over 15 hours (triple the average August rainfall). Most of these areas had never flooded before, were all well above sea level, didn’t meet requirements to have flood insurance established by the National Flood Insurance Program, and all fell victim to a “once-in–a-lifetime” flooding event.
Within the first few days after the EOC was activated, we were fully integrated with the Army, supporting operations with over 400 Air National Guard members across six parishes. Missions included:
- Search and rescue in Livingston and Ascension parishes with 26 high water vehicles and 70 personnel. The Louisiana National Guard, as a whole, rescued over 19,000 people and 2,600 pets from floodwaters.
- Seven Livingston Parish shelters were activated by ANG teams with 50 personnel and extremely limited initial resources. ANG members were the first in the shelters, even before the Red Cross. They provided shelter security, administration, medical support and resource coordination.
- The MEOC was initially tasked to provide command and control emergency management support for all of transportation command in the state. They were reassigned to search and rescue command and control in Ascension Parish on Aug. 16 until search and rescue operations ended.
- Five parish liaison officers were assigned to the EOCs in Livingston and St. Tammany parishes.
- 100 personnel were assigned to, and the ANG had full tactical command, at the Baton Rouge Mega Shelter Celtic Studios, the largest shelter in the state.
- 100 personnel were assigned to Task Force Bus, providing transportation for evacuees throughout East Baton Rouge Parish.
- 50 personnel were assigned as shelter security at the River Center shelter, the second-largest in the state.
- 23 personnel ran point of distribution operations in Baker, distributing water, MREs and tarps to the community.
- Multiple ANG personnel were assigned to various nodes in the JOC, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Office, the state EOC and the Louisiana ANG’s center.
In the end, the operation lasted over a month and ended Sept. 16. Over 100,000 homes flooded and are still undergoing recovery in debris-strewn neighborhoods. More than 30 ANG personnel were affected by the flooding. Some of these members, after losing everything, still volunteered to support response operations.
The Louisiana Air National Guard responded swiftly and with endurance to this “once-in–a-lifetime” event. We remain ready, equipped and trained to respond to another one at a moment’s notice. Louisiana won’t be washed away, but if it ever is, I can guarantee you it will be Louisiana guardsmen loading that last boat.
About the author: Huff is the emergency manager for the 159th Fighter Wing and the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th CES.