DENHAM SPRINGS -- For almost three years, Heather Toche has thought about moving away.
Both of her homes off Range Avenue in Denham Springs took in 8 feet of water during the August 2016 flood, leading to a near three-year-long process that had too many stressful twists and turns to count.
She had to take out a Small Business Administration loan for $150,000; she had to drain all of her savings and her children’s college funds; she and her family had to live in a small camper; they dealt with a fraudulent contractor; and they’re still waiting on more insurance money to come in.
All told, she’s poured around $400,000 into rebuilding her two homes, making the prospect of moving away “unrealistic.”
“We want to move, but we can’t,” Toche said, fighting back tears. “We put everything into rebuilding this. We’re pretty much hostages right now. If we leave, we lose everything we put into the house. We won’t ever get that back. This is what we got right now, and we have to make the most of it.
“But it makes you want to cry, and now here we are again.”
That sentiment is shared by many across the parish, who are preparing for another potentially dangerous — and costly — weather event that is set to hit south Louisiana this weekend.
Invest92L officially became Tropical Storm Barry at 10 a.m. Thursday, making it the second named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. It is projected to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane.
Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a “State of Emergency” for all of Louisiana on Wednesday, the same day parts of New Orleans were inundated with as much as 7 inches of rain. Parts of Plaquemines Parish were under mandatory evacuations early Thursday morning, with more to possibly follow in the coming days.
Current models from the National Weather Service have Livingston Parish receiving anywhere from 8” to 15” of rain, with larger totals in isolated pockets possible. Changes in pressure could shift the storm and adjust those totals.
As reported earlier Thursday, the eye of Barry is having difficulty taking shape, which is causing trouble for meteorologists as they try to determine the final path. The heaviest rain is expected Friday through Saturday night, which could lead to widespread/life-threatening flash flooding.
But despite the unpredictability surrounding the coming storm, people in Livingston Parish — where residents such as Toche are still dealing with the aftermath of the Great Flood of 2016 — aren’t wasting any time.
Long lines of trucks and cars have stretched from fire stations across the parish, where sand and sandbags have been available for the last three days.
Toche and her son Josh were two of hundreds of people who visited Fire District 3 Station 1 in Denham Springs on Thursday, when they loaded their trunk with 15 sandbags a day after lifting everything off the ground in their two homes.
When it comes to the weather, all you can do is prepare, Toche said.
“You want to save everything, but you know you can’t,” Toche said. “It is what it is. I tell my kids that as long as they’re breathing and have two hands and two feet, just pick yourself back up.”
Around 20,000 bags have been given out at Fire District 3 Station 1 in three days, said Ryan Frith, pastor of the Healing Place Church campus in Denham Springs, which has helped with the city’s storm preparation.
Frith said they plan on handing out sandbags through Thursday and Friday, weather permitting. Only 15 bags can be given to each car, said Frith, who added that there’s been constant lines of cars in the church parking lot for the last three days.
“Everybody’s a little anxious,” Frith said. “I had a 91-year-old lady come by and get 15 bags, and she was so happy someone loaded them up for her. I asked her who would help her unload them, and she said she was gonna ask neighbors, but we sent two guys to help her.”
Helping people shovel and load sand were members of the Denham Springs High softball team, who formed an assembly line to load the bags more quickly.
One of those softball players, sophomore Desiree Oneall, was a flood victim in 2016, when her family’s home took in 7 feet of water while they were in Tennessee. She recalls her and her family rushing home to get the dogs out of their kennels and let the farm animals out.
It took Oneall’s family of six about a year to get back in their home, which she said had to be completely rebuilt while they lived in a camper.
As she shoveled sand with her teammates, she couldn’t help but think of that stressful time and what this weekend could bring, though she admitted there’s little she can do to stop it.
“If it comes, it comes,” Oneall said. “There’s not much else you can do but prepare and hope it doesn’t hit us hard.”
Dale and Ila Clark, who live in The Willows in Denham Springs, didn’t flood in 2016, but they said they weren’t taking any chances with Barry.
“It got close enough last time that we don’t play games,” said Dale Clark, who said many of his neighbors and church members flooded in 2016.
Dale said he purchased supplies, water and batteries on Wednesday, and on Thursday, he and his wife got their allotted 15 sandbags. They’ll lift everything off their ground before the weekend as they constantly monitor the weather.
For Ila, filling up sand brought back memories.
“As soon as I took that shovel, it was just like that déjà vu of, ‘Oh no, not again,’” she said. “In that moment when I bent over, I just thought, ‘Not again, please not again.’ I still have friends who aren’t done yet, and I can’t imagine what it must be like for them if I’m struggling with it even though we were some of the lucky ones.”