Keeping Their Heads –– and Homes –– Above Water

By Val Horvath Davidson

Shreveport-Bossier really took a hit this year with the Red River flooding. We checked in with some of the affected residents to see how they are faring after this devastating moment and what’s next for them.

Wes Weaver has been around the largely rural area north of Bossier City adjacent to the Red River long enough to know things –– sometimes those that aren’t supposed to –– can get waterlogged when the stalwart stream overflows its banks.

That’s why when he built his house –– perched atop metal beams on a sandbar in the middle of an old river cutoff –– he made sure it was nine feet off the ground.

“Underneath is a game room, but that was meant to get wet,” Weaver said, noting the water wrecked a pool table, among other items, when it topped out down there at about seven and a half feet.

He knew right away he’d handle cleanup himself.

“We ended up scraping up three inches of muck –– the slimiest red dirt mud you’ve even seen –– and pressure-washed the walls and bleached everything down,” Weaver said. “It was a job.”

Though his nearby dirt pit, a well-known location where folks can come buy river soil, is still underwater and hundreds of acres of his crops were destroyed, he considers himself lucky.

“It’s been really devastating to a lot of people,” said Weaver, who frantically helped sandbag a friend’s house down the road in the nearby River Bluff subdivision when surplus water threatened to overtake it. “About 15 to 20 friends came to my place in a period of two days and got me back on track.”

Like Weaver, many property owners also opted for DIY approaches to mitigate their monumental messes.

Others didn’t want to touch them and called outfits such as SRP Environmental, an environmental health and safety consulting business that can provide concrete assurances everything is cleaned up properly and safely.

“Some people are just starting to realize they have a huge problem. They’re realizing it’s a lot more involved than they thought,” said Keith Sampson, SRP’s president and CEO, who estimates his company has assisted with about 20 area flood-related jobs as of late.

Though SRP doesn’t do the actual cleanup –– they farm that out to professional restoration contractors –– they take samples at the beginning of a project and then again at the end to ensure any contamination has been quelled.

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According to a FEMA fact sheet, mold and mildew can start growing within 24 hours after a flood. The best defense is to clean, dry out or discard moldy items. Porous surfaces are especially vulnerable and may need to be disposed of.

Cleve Mitchell, who lives on Wells Island Road just past the Shreveport Downtown Airport with his wife and eight-year-old granddaughter, knows this all too well.

He’s been there for over 30 years, and though his house took on water during the last major Red River uprising in 1990, nothing prepared him for this summer’s inundation when torrential rains in Texas and Oklahoma sent millions of gallons of water gushing downstream. The river eventually crested at over 37 feet in the beginning of June, well above flood stage, and damage was widespread in both Shreveport, Bossier City and other areas of northwest Louisiana. Such levels hadn’t been seen since the 1940s.

“I have no idea what the next step is,” Mitchell said, pointing at the front of his formerly white house, which is now two-tone due to being caked with brown muddy river remnants more than eight feet up the front facing.

The inside has been gutted, save for some wall-hanging kitchen cabinets and a few other odds and ends, and somewhat cleaned by a volunteer organization that canvassed the neighborhood. Mitchell sleeps on a cot tucked inside an outdoor party tent with mosquito netting that has been squeezed into the dining room.

The smell of dampness is overwhelming, but Mitchell is used to it.

“I’m waiting for my Social Security check. I’m broke right now,” he said. Though plagued by a disability, the 72-year-old is out in the yard picking up pinecones with a long metal grabber so he doesn’t have to bend over. “I work, rest, work, rest. That’s about all I can do.”

At another nearby section of the same road, Ricky Woodard is busy cleaning up a three-unit brick apartment building he owns that sits on what is usually a bluff overlooking the Red. Because of that, only about a foot of water made it into the co-op, but weeks after the river’s second crest it still roars by significantly higher than usual though it has receded to a point underneath the knoll.

“I wanted to get all the tear-out done. You just want to get anything out of there that holds moisture,” said Woodard, who has made many trips to a large dumpster that has been placed in the street out front to throw away ruined components. He’s also treated many of the remaining surfaces with a mold-killing agent and done a lot of power washing.

“I never thought the water would get as high as it did,” he added, noting all his tenants are living elsewhere now but plan to return. “It doesn’t seem possible, but eventually all this mess will be cleaned up.”