When Cathy Wagner’s 13-year-old grandson got home from school on Wednesday, he stopped in his tracks and smiled. When she asked him what was wrong, he just kept smiling and responded:
“WE”VE GOT WALLS, NANNY! WE CAN GO HOME SOON!”
Cathy and her husband David, a Vietnam veteran, used much of their life savings to purchase their “dream house” in Albany, Louisiana, a little more than three years ago. They even purchased flood insurance for the first year until their agent convinced them it was a waste of money. The area had never flooded, and it would never flood, he insisted. They canceled it.
In August, though, a flood deemed a once-in-500-years event began lapping at their doorstep. When they went to bed, their floors were dry. In the middle of the night, they were wading through three feet of water on their way to their four-wheel drive truck. It stalled in the rising water. Later, someone tried to rescue them by boat, but a tree fell on the boat, injuring Cathy’s knee and sending them back into the house. They would be in there with the floodwaters for 18 more hours before an airboat came by to rescue them.
For the last few months, the Wagners have been living in a FEMA trailer behind the damaged home. Already disabled, they blame the living conditions for respiratory problems they have developed since the flood.
This week, however, about two dozen volunteers from across the nation have come to Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, to help the Wagners get out of that FEMA trailer and back into their dream home.
“I’m so excited and so happy and so thankful,” Cathy said Thursday, the final day of the Higher Ground on the Bayou Flood Recovery Build. “I feel so blessed right now. Everybody here has been so lovely and so nice.”
BILL AND DEBI HAYDEN
In the Pumpkin Center neighborhood of nearby Hammond, Louisiana, Bill Hayden, also a Vietnam veteran, and his wife Debi thought they had seen it all after living on the same property since 1990. For the first 15 years, they lived in a doublewide. When they were in the middle of building their dream home, Hurricane Katrina hit.
“We just watched the trees blow in the wind, but we had no major damage,” Debi recalled. “We were able to finish the house just fine.”
Certainly, if they could survive Katrina, there would be almost nothing Mother Nature could throw at them to disrupt their lives. Almost.
Like the Wagners, they say they were also told that flood insurance would be a waste of money. In August, their home was flooded with about 20 inches of water. They, too, partnered with the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing to get repairs during this week’s Higher Ground on the Bayou Build.
“It was a very disturbing event,” Bill said of the flood. “We have bought flood insurance just in case it happens again.”
For now, though, thanks to Ginger Ford Northshore Director Tamara Danel and the volunteers she helped bring to Louisiana this week, they have nearly completed their long journey back from the flood.
“This is a great opportunity for us to serve and do what we do,” Danel said during the dedication ceremony at the Hayden home with hot sunshine beaming down. “We want to see you back in your beautiful home and be proud of it and feel safe in it.”
A LONG WAY FROM HOME
Volunteers came from all across the country to work in Louisiana this week, but only one came from out of the country — Jose Santos Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been an integral part of The Fuller Center’s local leadership team in Nicaragua as the group’s project manager. He knows architecture and engineering, but travel is not his specialty.
“It’s my first trip to the United States,” he said. “It’s my first time on a plane.”
Santos said the many volunteers who keep coming to work in Nicaragua through The Fuller Center’s Global Builders program have provided a tremendous boost to the families and local employment picture in the Las Peñitas area, and he wanted to do a little to pay it forward. He’ll also hanging around for this weekend’s Fuller Center Conference at which he’ll meet with Global Builders team leaders. And now that he’s gotten his first plane flight under his belt, he’ll have another before going back to Nicaragua.
“I’m flying to L.A. to see family,” he said. “I haven’t seen them since 1998.”