Down Home LA: People of the Flood

A sign reads "No Cry Zone" in front of a flooded home in Central, Louisiana.
A sign reads "No Cry Zone" in front of a flooded home in Central, Louisiana.(KALB)
Published: Aug. 25, 2016 at 12:13 PM CDT
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Nearly every street in the small town of Central, Louisiana, a suburb on the northern side of Baton Rouge, is a dusty museum to the way things once were. Towering over the sides of the road, you’ll see mounds of sheet rock, fiberglass insulation and waterlogged furniture, mixed in with more personal items like soaked photo albums, moldy stuffed animals and pianos passed down from generations gone by.

However, mixed in with the wreckage, you’ll also see Louisiana’s famous determination and Cajun humor. On one street corner, a sign is attached to a ruined piano more than 100 years old that reads – please take, needs tuning. A few houses down, another spray painted sign officially declares one house a “No Cry Zone.”

There are countless stories to be told of families who have lost everything. One family, the Rygiels, had just taken the “For Sale” sign off their front yard before they could have seen it floating away.

“Our first mortgage payment was made on August, 1,” said John Rygiel, still working on throwing out the last pieces of damp sheet rock from his gutted home. “12 days later, the water was coming inside.”

His brand new house’s title was soaked, but his passion was saved. His love of photography made it an easy decision to save a laptop loaded down with gigabytes of photos taken over the years. When the time came to leave their new home in a canoe, John and his wife escaped with clothes, two laptops and food for their pets.

Across the street from the Rygiel home passerby’s would see a busy scene at the Lewis residence. Maura Lewis and her family evacuated from their home and stayed at a school-turned-shelter close by. While there, they told the shelter operators more about their issues. Like most families in Central who don’t live in a “Flood Zone,” they were without the necessary insurance and didn’t have the technical skills needed to gut and rebuild a flooded home. So, they prayed and “an angel” answered.

“We saw a need and we decided to help out,” said Shafer Mendoza while loading up a wheelbarrow with rotted wood from the Lewis home. Mendoza and his coworkers from Joule Solar Energy in New Orleans had never met the Lewis family until he showed up on the door step with the tools and people necessary to guy their home for free.

“They have been awesome,” Maura Lewis said. “Without them, I would still be in a moldy house.”

Between the Lewis family and the Rygiels, there is a sense of calming peace nestled into this tragic corner of the bayou state. John Rygiel said it comes from someone else.

“I believe in God. God and I have gotten along, and I understand the grace of God very well. When the call comes and you know His eyes are upon you, you go. And you know, the support that you’re to need is going to be there.”

Thank God for the state of Down Home Louisiana.