But on Thursday, the house they bought — the place they’d lovingly spruced up with new carpets and a fresh paint job — rotted in mucky water that climbed 31
2 feet up the walls. They had escaped one flood zone and found another, exactly seven years to the day that Katrina chased them from New Orleans. “This is like deja vu,” said Williams’s wife, Cynthia Thibodeaux.
For Williams and Thibodeaux, and others like them, the suburban flooding triggered Wednesday and Thursday by Hurricane Isaac — which was weakening as it moved north to less-than-tropical-storm strength — carried with it a special cruelty. What they had fled seven years ago came looking for them again.
It found Patrick and Detria Hutchinson, too. They had escaped in another direction, packing what little was left after their Upper Ninth Ward house in New Orleans was destroyed and trekking to the northeast, across Lake Pontchartrain to the city of Slidell. On Thursday, 60 miles away and at opposite ends of Lake Pontchartrain, the Hutchinsons were faced with the same crisis as Thibodeaux and Williams: a house they needed to flee.
“We weren’t expecting this — not out here,” Patrick Hutchinson said Thursday after an armored personnel carrier plowed through flooded streets to evacuate him and his wife from their home.
The flooding in LaPlace and Slidell was all the more mind-bending for so many here because New Orleans was barely touched by Isaac, except for a smattering of downed trees and streetlights. Huge new floodgates, super-sized levees and powerful pumps did exactly what they were supposed to do — they kept the city from turning into a lake. But in these other cities, these places that once seemed like such refuges, the water rose. And rose. And rose.
A flash flood sent water pulsing into Slidell’s streets, forcing rapid-fire evacuations of dozens of residents, one of the more startling developments on a day when tens of thousands of residents in Tangipahoa Parish were ordered to leave because of fears that a dam might fail. A sneakier, slower-moving flood plagued LaPlace, pushing more than 2,000 people from their homes. Army National Guard troops loaded hundreds of residents onto buses outside a church-turned-shelter Thursday. The crush of people — far more than were expected — was too great. The facility inadequate. The buses bound for far-off places — Alexandria and Shreveport. It was an exodus that brought back uncomfortable memories of Katrina.
The New Orleanians who found homes in suburbs such as LaPlace and Slidell were supposed to be the lucky ones. They weren’t part of the great post-Katrina diaspora that flung thousands of the city’s residents — most of them African Americans — around the country never to return. Old neighbors of Williams and Thibodeaux now call Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Portland home. And the couple misses them.