Great Denham Flood of 16
Aerial view of flooding

There are rain storms, and then there are Louisiana rain storms. Friday and Saturday’s deluge still makes everybody nervous, even five months after the “Great Denham Flood” of ’16. It’s been raining, off and on, since last Monday. Last Wednesday night, the showers begin in earnest. Both our phones beep with Emergency Alerts Thursday morning, warning of possible flash floods. Some areas have already received 4 inches or more.

We all hold onto hope that the next couple days will bring sunshine, as predicted, but no such luck. On Saturday, we get a phone alert for a Tornado Watch. That cloud passes by and unfortunately for Hattiesburg, MS, touches down there and kills 4 people. Intermittent rain continues here through Sunday, and clears off during the night. Obviously, weather is a big deal throughout the south, any time of year.


Never in anyone’s memory had this town flooded this badly, not even during Hurricane Katrina in August, 2005. Louisiana floods are not uncommon, but it’s the breadth and depth of this one that made it so devastating. It’s a rare town in these parts that can handle a record 30” of rain in 2 days like they received last August. Stories abound of those who laid down on a sofa or bed, only to wake up and stand in knee-deep (or deeper) water.

At Wednesday night’s prayer service, we speak with a young couple, Kevin and Rachel, who’ve been married just about a year. Last August, they’d just recently moved here and lived in a mobile home while they searched for a house.

“We got up to fix breakfast and looked outside. It was still raining, but looked OK,” Rachel says. “Just as we finished breakfast, we looked out again and thought, oh my, we need to get out of here! We threw a few things in a bag, like important documents and some clothes…I stepped down into water over my knees.”


Reports and statistics vary, but here’s some numbers I glean to put this in perspective:

  • 4 TRILLION gallons fell. More than 3 times the water absorbed from Katrina.
  • 100,000 people displaced
  • 30,000 rescues
  • 13 died
  • 1/3 of the state affected


Great Denham Flood
Alvin and Marie Wroten

The Wrotens lost everything. Alvin and Marie, a couple in their late 70s attend Lockhart Road Baptist. Their house stands in a lovely, tree-lined neighborhood…now. But at 4 AM on August 13, the couple awoke to find about 2 1/5 feet of water all through their home.

“We knew we had to get out right away,” Marie tells Larry. They stepped out their front door into chest-deep water and headed, as fast as they could, toward their neighbor’s house on higher ground. That haven lasted for a time, but, eventually, that home flooded, too. Since the water there crested at only a couple inches, the neighbors stayed, but the Wrotens had to be rescued by a grandson’s friend who owned a boat. Everyone with a boat pitched in with the rescues. Locally, these neighborhood flotillas became known as the “Cajun Navy.”

Cajun Navy video

Alvin and Marie built the house in 1976, and never has it flooded.  This time, water reaches about 3 ½ feet up the walls. The entire house and all its contents has to be gutted down to the studs, then drenched with a special mold- killing spray before reconstruction can begin.

Great Denham flood of 16
Alvin and Marie’s house under water

They’ve been some of the more lucky ones, although they’d call it “blessed!” Volunteers come in October, from the church where Marie’s cousin attends, a Southern Baptist Church in Pascagoula, MS. The church donates and hangs sheet rock for the entire house. Later, 27 men from Immanuel Baptist Church in Corunna, MI, come and paint the entire house. Ron Ostten had preached at that church several times, and they offered assistance. Since then, Ron and others have helped them to finish the house. Ron builds kitchen cupboards that Larry helps him finish and hang.

great Denham flood of 16
Alvin and Marie’s new kitchen.


Multitudes have not been so fortunate. This flood covered at least 11,000 square miles, including Baton Rouge and the capitol building. We’d driven more than 20 miles east of Denham, and still saw evidence of the carnage – piles of debris in yards, once-lovely homes unoccupied. Many families still live in “temporary” FEMA travel trailers, most waiting on insurance or FEMA money to rebuild. Some just walk away. One Denham Springs elementary school just reopened in January, and Roberta anxiously awaits Walmart and Sonic to do the same.


Five months later, “the flood” dominates every aspect of life, even conversations.

“When we greet each other today,” says Pastor Ostten, “we don’t ask, ‘How y’all doin’?” We just ask, ‘How much water did y’all get?’” It seems like nearly all conversations, eventually, include the flood.

As I listen to several TV weather reports, each forecaster hastens to add the same kind of reassurance. “We’re getting a lot of rain, but don’t worry, it’s nothing like last August.”

The waters are gone, but the fear remains fresh. The stories continue, and everyone has one. But, past experience makes us all thankful that, today, we see blue sky and sunshine!

5 thoughts on “THE GREAT DENHAM FLOOD OF 2016

  1. Thank you for sharing this story about what is happening in the south. God’s speed.

  2. Unbelievable!! This disaster was not covered and recognized by the media in an adequate way. I remember seeing just a few pictures and was astonished by the damage but little seemed to be made of it. How wonderful that you are able to be a part of the recovery process. Many blessings and love,

  3. There were as high as 136000 claims filed and so far FEMA has only supplied about 4,000 temporary homes. Most of the help has come through private people, churches, clubs, the “Cajun Navy” and Samaritan’s purse has helped some also.

  4. As that water flowed south, the Amite River just could not contain it. In less then 24 hours, the river rose above the 29 foot flood stage to crest at a record breaking 44.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *