After the flood: Residents still dealing with effects from rising waters
Published 12:04 am Sunday, May 20, 2012
VIDALIA — When Gail Netterville and Nathan Way bought their house on Minorca Road, they knew the risk of being on the other side of the levee meant dealing with high waters, boating in and out of their home and the occasional alligator.
But with their house raised on stilts and in accordance with a 100-year flood plan, the couple decided to put up with some inconveniences to live the river life.
“You really have to love the river to live out here,” Way said swaying from a chair that overlooks the river. “And when you live in nature, you have to live by nature.”
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But as the Mississippi River started rising to record levels, Netterville, Way and most Concordia Parish residents sprung into action to protect their homes and memories.
And while the couple’s Minorca Road house was one of only a few that was damaged by the 61.9 feet of water, several citizens said the stress of preparing for the unpredictable was enough to make them rethink their living locations and priorities in life.
As the water rose within a few feet of their home, Netterville and Way were still confident they could stay and fight the flood.
“We were going to ride it out if it was going to crest at 60 feet, but once they started saying 61 feet, we started moving things,” Way said. “It doesn’t seem like a lot, but a foot is as good as a mile sometimes.”
When the last of their belongings had been taken out by pontoon boat and the electricity was cut off, Netterville said the gravity of the situation started to sink in.
“To say it was a nightmare is putting it mildly,” Netterville said. “It was just a freak thing. I mean how do you prepare for a 500-year flood?”
During the river’s highest level, the water was almost three-and-a-half feet deep in the couple’s home.
And after the river levels lowered and the couple finally got back into their house, they stood in their living room deciding if it was worth starting over.
“We had only been here 28 months when that happened to us, but that was just long enough to know that I wanted to live here the rest of my life,” Netterville said. “So we started stripping everything down and making some repairs.”
The couple spent $15,000 to make renovations, and some improvements, on their house.
Even after all the renovations and the experience of fighting one flood, the couple said they would not stick around for another record flood.
“I’d cry my eyes out, but we’d just have to walk away,” Netterville said. “That flood took just about everything we had, and I can’t see us doing all that again.”
Being more than 10 miles away from the might Mississippi as it rose to record heights didn’t help Janice Crochet sleep at night.
Instead, she and her husband, Terry, began packing treasured belongings in the house she’s lived in since she was 4-years-old.
And after realizing that all the storage units in the area were occupied, Terry called upon his family for assistance.
“Before we even knew what we were going to do with everything, there were 30 people here moving things into flatbed trailers,” Janice said. “It was devastating to see all of our things just get taken away.
“I cried a lot during that whole time.”
Furniture, home furnishings and other items were shipped to a family relative’s house in Jennings, La.
The items deemed “valuable” and other necessary items were moved to a camper, which sat outside their home ready to burn rubber in case water breached the levee.
As if times weren’t trying enough, Janice was also dealing with family members with severe medical conditions.
“My daughter has a heart condition, and my mother was on her death bed, so it was just all these things piling onto each other at the same time,” Janice said. “I would lock myself in that camper and just cry all day sometimes.”
Even as the water levels began dropping and the threat of flooding decreased, Janice said it wasn’t easy to start piecing their lives back together.
Much of their furniture and other belongings were damaged during the moves in and out of the house.
“There wasn’t a lot of relief,” she said. “We don’t have a lot as far as hobbies and all that. We spend time investing in our home, and to see all of that be damaged or irreplaceable was just devastating.”
One year later, Janice is still living out of the camper slowly unpacking boxes and assessing the damage from an event that changed her life forever.
“I did help me realize that our family and people are more important than any materialistic item you could own. I knew that already, but the flood really put an impact on that,” Janice said. “We moved here when I was 4 and I’ve been living here ever since, but I would seriously consider letting the house go if another flood like that came through.
“It just wouldn’t be worth going through all that again.”
Crest predictions, weather patterns and gossip didn’t really mean much to Barbara Hughes when the river began rising.
It wasn’t until her husband, Gordon “Pee Wee,” mentioned the need to start looking for a house across the river in Natchez to rent that reality hit her.
“When he said that I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I guess were going to have a flood,’” Barbara said. “We’ve lived in our house for 40 years and lived in Vidalia before that, and we had never seen anything like that before.”
Through some connections from his old job as a mail carrier in Natchez, Gordon was able to find a home in Kingston that was suitable for the couple plus their two daughters and their families.
“We took everything that we treasured, which was amazing when you start deciding what’s your treasure and what’s not,” Barbara said. “We had the whole family over there all the time except my husband.
“He would stay in our house at night and come to the other house during the day because he didn’t want anyone to come in and take anything.”
On top of the stress of being displaced from their family home for a few months, Gordon’s battle with cancer made the ordeal even more difficult.
“We were just about stretched out to the max at that point,” Barbara said. “It was a very difficult time for us, and a lot of other people in the area as well.”
After the river levels began to lower and parish families made their way back into their homes, Barbara said she began considering a permanent move across the river.
“Leaving Vidalia was something we never dreamed would happen, but that flood changed everything,” Barbara said. “One time was enough.
“I do not want to experience that ever again.”
Home, sweet home
When Christian Rachal and his wife Stephanie bought their first home together in Vidalia, they didn’t expect to be searching the real estate listings four years later.
But when the threat of a 500-year flood came knocking on their doors last year, Christian said he didn’t see any other option.
“As soon as the water started coming up and they were talking about levees being weak, we started talking about moving,” Christian said. “It’s just not worth it to be constantly worried about losing your house.”
A Natchez native who marrying a Vidalia native, Christian said he had lobbied for a Natchez house in the first place. But they fell in love with their first home — in Vidalia — until news of a potential flood came while Christian was working offshore and away from his wife.
“As soon as I heard them say how high they thought it was going to get, I rushed home and we started packing,” Christian said. “We had everything in storage and were staying at my sister’s house in Natchez within a few days.”
Attending just about every public information meeting during the time of the flood, Christian said the higher the river rose, the easier the decision became — for both of them.
“She was on board 100 percent right off the bat,” Christian said. “We didn’t want to jump the gun or anything, but we made the decision that we would start looking over in Natchez to get on higher ground.”
And one year later, the couple is still waiting to find the perfect house — on the Natchez side of the river.
“It’s not easy to buy one house and then turn around and buy another house four years later, especially when you’re in your 30s, so we’re just taking our time looking around,” Christian said. “We’ve been here a while, and we both love that house, but there won’t be a tear in my eye when we leave.”