Left: Mercy Chefs Photo. Using a small boat

Left: Mercy Chefs Photo. Using a small boat

VHS alumna volunteers in Louisiana as extreme flooding continues

As rain continues to fall in southeastern Louisiana and the national media's interest in this country's worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy remains fleeting, one former islander offers a first-hand account of the devastation and her involvement in the area's relief efforts.

As rain continues to fall in southeastern Louisiana and the national media’s interest in this country’s worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy remains fleeting, one former islander offers a first-hand account of the devastation and her involvement in the area’s relief efforts.

Taylor Mulvihill — whose family had a home on Vashon — graduated from Vashon High School in 2006 and Washington State University in 2011, before landing right in the middle of one of the most significant floods of the last decade when she moved from Houston to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a week and a half ago.

“I left Seattle in March to move to Houston with my college sweetheart,” Mulvihill said. “And a few months later he got a promotion which meant moving to Baton Rouge. We just moved last week and were staying in a hotel when the rain started.”

The rain Mulvihill referred to is the 30-plus inches that began falling in the area on Aug. 10 and did not let up until a week later. Some parishes were choked by nearly 2-and-a-half feet of rainfall from the nameless storm in just 15 hours.

According to Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards (D), at least 40,000 homes have been damaged or lost and 13 people are known to have died so far in the flash flooding that ensued. As rescue and recovery efforts continue, those numbers are likely to rise, as many areas were as yet unreachable toward the end of last week.

Mulvihill said that the morning after she and her boyfriend watched the news in their hotel room of area waters beginning to rise, the hotel lobby looked like a refugee camp, with families desperate for shelter.

“There was a little boy who came up to me and asked me if I was OK,” she said. “He asked if we’d had to leave our home, and I told him no, that we had just moved there and were staying at the hotel. Then he told me that he and his family had lost their home and everything they had. That’s when we decided to find a place to live as soon as we could so that we could free up space in the hotel for those that really needed it.”

The young couple did find themselves a place to live, though despite feeling exceptionally fortunate to have found an apartment outside of the flood damaged areas, Mulvihill also found herself overwhelmed by both guilt and a desire to help.

“I was unpacking, and all I could think was, ‘Here I am with a roof over my head and a place to call home while so many others have been displaced,'” she explained. “Especially since I’m between jobs because of the move, I have so much time right now. I needed to find a way to help.”

Mulvihill’s first thought was the local Humane Society or other animal shelters, but the one in their area was unreachable due to continued high waters. Then she found Mercy Chefs.

As might be guessed from its name, Mercy Chefs is a faith-based nonprofit that works to get food to victims, volunteers and first responders during national emergencies or natural disasters, both in the U.S. as well as abroad. The 10-year-old agency, whose mission statement is “Just go feed people,” also works to feed low-income and homeless urban populations and installs water purification systems in at-risk international communities.

Mulvihill signed up as a volunteer and has been helping to make and serve over 1,500 meals per day to those in need.

“It’s so hot,” she noted of preparing food all day in a climate thick with humidity and oppressive heat, despite the rain that has continued off and on in the area, “but so many people have been affected and need help. You just have to do it.”

Heartbreak can be found everywhere, even in the flood-spared apartment complex that Mulvihill now calls home. She told a story of meeting a young woman there who lost both her brother and sister when they stopped to help someone else at the height of the flooding.

“They were evacuating, trying to get out in a pickup truck, but the water was rising so fast, and then they saw a woman who needed help,” Mulvihill said. “The brother got out of the truck to help, leaving the sister. The water came up too fast. He was swept away with the woman, and the sister was swept away in the truck. All three are gone.”

While some Red Cross officials are equating this disaster with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, according to a story in The Washington Post, some residents are reliving the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

A woman named Phonecia Howard who moved from New Orleans to a Baton Rouge neighborhood “that had never flooded” after losing her home to Katrina, told the Post that she could only think back to the ruins that were left 11 years ago, as she waded through floodwaters last weekend to get to a boat that would take her to safety.

“I was just thinking, ‘Not again, this cannot happen again,'” Howard was quoted as saying.

Mulvihill said she feels fortunate to be able to give her time right now, and plans to continue to volunteer as long as needed — given the extent of the flooding, that will likely be some time yet. As reported in the Post’s story, a spokesman for Louisiana’s Governor’s office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has stated that it is “impossible” to know how many people might still be stranded and in need of rescue, and the state fire marshal has said teams are planning to search another 30,000 homes and buildings over the next couple of weeks.

For anyone wishing to donate to Mercy Chefs, go to mercychefs.com/donate-us. There is an option for donations to go specifically to the effort in Louisiana.

Other avenues to help the victims of the flooding in Baton Rouge include:

– Companion Animal Alliance, Baton Rouge’s city animal shelter: CAABR.org

– United Way of Southeast Louisiana: unitedwaysela.org/flood

– Denham Springs Animal Shelter: gofundme.com/2jdh3xg4. PetCo is matching the funds raised dollar-for-dollar up to $50,000.

Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana: apeleducators.org/page/DisasterRelief. Donations will be given directly to teachers who have lost classroom materials.

Red Cross: Donations may be made by calling 1-800-REDCROSS or text LAFLOODS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

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