The Catholic Commentator

Thad Bridges and brother, Jimmy, lived many years in their same homes in areas considered “flood free” zones. But they, along with thousands of other residents throughout the region, watched in shock and disbelief as the bayous and rivers in southeast Louisiana demonstrated they are free to stretch their boundaries and go where they will, flooding their homes and wreaking havoc in their communities during the historic flood of August 2016.

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Pictured is Mary and Thad Bridges neighbor’s home, with a view of the Bridges’ driveway in between, as the couple left their home in a boat the afternoon of the flood. In the driveway is a fire log from a neighbor’s yard being pushed by the rushing waters. Photo provided by Mary Bridges

 

Thad Bridges, and wife, Mary, live in Greenwell Springs and Jimmy and wife, Sue, live in Denham Springs, which were among the areas in the Diocese of Baton Rouge hardest hit by the flood.

As the first year anniversary of the flood approaches, the Bridges are thankful that in the midst of many things going wrong, many things went right during the event that changed their life and the lives of many others.

The first right thing to happen was that they got out of their homes as the waters closed in.

The first clue for Jimmy and Mary that something was different during this time of heavy rain was when they saw their next door neighbor rushing around, and he told them he was putting things up on bricks in his house.

“He said, ‘I think we’re going to get it,’ ” said Mary.

But the Bridges “stayed right where they were,” and then the waters rose rapidly from both sides of their subdivision off Frenchtown Road. People were leaving in airboats.

Thad Bridges got an old pump from a swimming pool they had filled in and tried to keep water out of the house, but it could not keep up with the rushing river waters.

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When it was clear that their home would be taking on water and roads were impassable, the Bridges wondered what they were going to do when Ed White, a “knight in shining armor” riding in a boat rather than on a horse, came to their riding in a boat rather than on a horse, came to their house and urged them to get in. They were his last stop for the day, and he told them once they got to his truck on drier land, he would take them to wherever they wanted to go. He took them to a friend’s house in Baton Rouge.

Jimmy and Sue, also narrowly escaped.

Their daughter, Tiffany, who lives in Brusly, called Sue early that morning and told her to get in her car and for her and her other daughter, Jennifer, who lives not far down Hwy. 16 from them, to meet her at Interstate 12 at Juban Road. From there they would go to her home in Brusly.

Before leaving, Sue took her religious items, such as crosses, rosary, etc., which proved handy to keep her strong.

Sue, Jennifer and her three children inched their way to Interstate 12, where Tiffany was waiting.

Water was over the bumper of Sue’s car as they drove on the interstate.

“Shortly after we got on the interstate there, they stopped all traffic. We barely got out,” said Sue.

Jimmy stayed behind and put things up and loaded the truck. He couldn’t get to the interstate so he went to Jennifer’s house and stayed with her husband. Luckily, Jennifer’s home was spared from the flood, one of a couple homes in her neighborhood that did not flood.

Because of phone service being down, it took a few days for Sue and Jennifer to get into contact with their husbands. It was an anxious time.

“We didn’t know if they got out or if they were safe. I was upset,” said Sue. Her brothers living in the Brusly and Plaquemine vicinity came to help calm her.

When Thad and Mary and Jimmy and Sue returned to their homes, they were struck by the damage caused by the flood.

“It looked like an earthquake had hit it,” said Jimmy. Floodwaters toppled over appliances and scattered and damaged furniture and other items.

Thad’s house was also extensively damaged. Items they placed in plastic containers toppled into the water and were ruined.

Thad and Jimmy checked on each other after the flood, shared their common stories and kept each other encouraged by agreeing, “We will survive.” They came from a family whose belief was “You do what you got to do and get on with it.” Each was mired in their own situation for months.

During the grueling recovery effort, another “right thing” to happen for the Bridges is that family, neighbors and friends stuck together and worked as quickly as possible to restore their homes.

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Flood waters created a swift, high current at Range Avenue at 1-12 in Denham Springs during the flood of August 2016. Photo by Sue Bridges

 

For Thad, friends were on the scene the next day and then family members came. While Frenchtown Road was closed, they gained a “backdoor entrance” through property owned by a neighbor who opened up his gate to allow people to get back to their homes.

Thad jumped in and worked alongside his helpers and wound up in the hospital from dehydration.

“I told the nurses ‘I need to get home, I have too much going on,’ ” said Thad, who worked to get released as soon as possible.

In Denham Springs, people from Brusly and Plaquemine, including the Plaquemine High School football team, descended on Jimmy and Sue’s house and started the reconstruction process.

Another thing that “went right” was that the Bridges let loose of their grip on material things.

“The first thing you have to do is determine you lost everything and move on,” said Thad.

Mary and Thad had their 50th wedding anniversary on April 15. Mary said the flood ruined their wedding photos and other early marriage keepsakes.

“Thad said, ‘Don’t worry, we have each other,’ ” said Mary.

She noted St. Alphonsus Church in Greenwell Springs blessed them in regard to their lost wedding memorabilia. Before the flood they had turned in to the church a copy of their wedding photo for a celebration for couples celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. JoAnn Stein, executive director at St. Alphonsus, made a copy of the Bridges’ photo, framed it and gave it to them.

“That’s one of the most important thing that anyone has ever done, it’s very touching,” said Mary.

Sue said after the flood two people she knew were murdered, one a seven-year-old child, and the other a 20-year-old woman.

“A house is a material thing, my heart breaks for them,” said Sue, who said those tragedies and initially not knowing if her husband was okay after the flood, crystalized her belief that family and friends matter most.

The work on Jimmy’s and Thad’s homes are mostly complete, and the brothers are back playing golf. They and their wives are thankful that the “gains” have ultimately overcome the “losses” following the historic flood.

Mary said, “I am grateful to all who provided shelter, food, taxi service, friendly ear, family and great neighbors tearing out sheet rock and packing up what could be saved, the entrance into our property and especially the prayers. Without each we could not have made it through each day.”