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1 Year Later, Baton Rouge Works To Recover From Damaging Storms

Aug 11, 2017
Originally published on August 11, 2017 5:59 am
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It's been just about a year since Baton Rouge flooded. Over two days in the middle of August last year, summer storms emptied as much as 2 feet of rain on the city. The water destroyed more than 24,000 houses there, and thousands of people are still homeless a year later. Sharon Weston Broome is the mayor of Baton Rouge. The official title there is actually mayor-president. Good morning, Mayor-President.

SHARON WESTON BROOME: Good morning, Ailsa. Thank you for having me this morning.

CHANG: What would we see if we drove up and down the streets in your city this morning?

WESTON BROOME: If you drove up and down our streets, you would see folks still working on their homes. You would probably see contractors. You would also see a lot - a number of FEMA mobile units up as well if you drove through the streets of Baton Rouge.

CHANG: Beyond rebuilding homes, what else does Baton Rouge need? Are there projects that need to get done? And what do you need to finish those projects?

WESTON BROOME: Well, certainly, there are a number of projects that need to get done. But what I will say is that there's an issue that often goes under the radar, and that is the issue of mental health. You know, our citizens who were impacted by last year's floods still have a lot of very raw emotions related to rain events that we experience here. And I hear a lot as I go around this parish about the anxiety that many people feel about rain or flood events like this happening again.

CHANG: What kind of stories have you heard from people who are dealing with trauma they're still feeling from last year's storms?

WESTON BROOME: Well, I can tell you that not long ago we had a storm - Cindy, I believe it was - that was anticipated. And in the midst of that, constituents would call, and they would be very, very concerned about any level of water approaching their homes or their neighborhoods. And so they became really anxious, and they start to worry. They think it's a precursor to reliving what happened last year.

CHANG: What about you? Can you relate to some of that anxiety when it rains now?

WESTON BROOME: Well, you know, I relate in two ways. I relate as the leader and CEO and mayor of this city and parish, but I also have a very personal connection because my home flooded. And, you know, I can remember August 13 telling my husband that we were going to go out that morning to go visit people who were already in shelters. And he said, OK. He was dressed before I was. And by the time I got dressed, he came back in the house and said, I don't think we're going anywhere. You need to step outside and see what's happening in our own neighborhood. I did that, looked down the street; two blocks were underwater.

CHANG: Wow.

WESTON BROOME: And so we ended up going, staying with our daughter and son-in-law, and that's where we've been.

CHANG: You're still there?

WESTON BROOME: Since August 13. Our home is anticipated being completed at the end of August, so my husband and I have transitioned into a hotel for a month. So I know firsthand. I can tell you, Ailsa, that when we left, in my mind, I thought I was coming back to my house that next day. And I can imagine if I thought that, there were thousands of other individuals who thought the same thing, only to be disheartened to find out that it didn't happen.

CHANG: And a year later, you're still waiting to go back home.

WESTON BROOME: Yes.

CHANG: Sharon Weston Broome is the mayor-president of Baton Rouge and the parish of East Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Thank you so much for taking the time this morning.

WESTON BROOME: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.