On April 8, 1983, I left home in Livingston Parish and traveled Interstate 12 West to my temp job location in mid-town Baton Rouge. I crossed the Amite River Bridge at Denham Springs as I had done hundreds of times. That morning, the stream had risen several feet. Debris floated faster than usual. In the parking lot at work, wind and rain whipped my umbrella and drenched me before I reached the entrance. Nothing new for Louisiana spring rains, but heavier than usual.
The project was behind schedule. My job—meet the deadline. I couldn’t concentrate on the stacks of data that needed to be typed, copied, faxed, or delivered. How will I get home if the Amite floods over the highway?
Two years earlier, we had built a home in rural Livingston Parish, twelve road miles from the Amite (A-Meet) River at Denham Springs. A small back portion of our 400-ft. deep acre was in the 100-year flood zone, so we chose elevated Acadian-style construction rather than a concrete slab foundation. That lifted us another three feet above potential flooding. Only three miles south of the I-12 at Walker, we didn’t worry about an evacuation route. Those precautions melted like winter ice on a warm spring day.
Long before mobile phones text, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram photos, weather alerts trickled into the business world from a portable radio. Early afternoon news reported that the Denham Spring I-12 Bridge would be closed by nightfall. I’d be marooned with thousands of others in Baton Rouge until the water receded. I asked the office manager to let me go home early. “It’s not as bad as they say,” he replied. “You have to finish this project.”
I returned to my tasks. My fingers flew over the keyboard. I stared at the cascading sheets of rain outside. Thunder rumbled. Lightning flashed. I scurried between my desk to the copier and fax machine, skirting his office like a mouse avoiding a trap. About two hours later, still a long way from finished, I approached the manager, latest efforts in hand. “I have to go,” I said. “With the flooded streets, I may not make it to the bridge before dark.” He insisted the danger was exaggerated and told me to keep working. Caution with a hint of fear said otherwise. I cleared my desk, gathered my purse and umbrella, and headed to my car. My drive through flooded Baton Rouge streets was slow. I relaxed a little when I reached the elevated freeway. Twenty more minutes and I’ll be home.
Flashing lights and a line of vehicles stopped me near the Amite River Bridge. Darkness encroached. I inched forward, headlights pierced the rain, windshield wipers at high speed cleared a semi-circle, until I was the first in line. A State Trooper approached. I lowered my window a few inches. Rain poured from his Smokey-the-Bear-style hat when he leaned down to be heard.
“Water’s over the bridge now, ma’am. We’re gonna escort you across,” he said. “Then, we’re gonna close the road.”