By Senior Airman Heather Heiney, 403rd Wing Public Affairs / Published August 23, 2016
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Airmen help one another with response and recovery efforts Aug. 19, 2016, after flooding in Baton Rouge, La. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Heather Heiney)
KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) — “The water started seeping in through the walls. We woke up our son, put on his little boots, and put him up on the table,” said Callie Lips, the wife of Tech. Sgt. Ricky Lips.
The Lips were one of the many families affected by flash floods that swept through Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Aug. 12.
Ricky, a 403rd Maintenance Squadron member, said that in the early stages of the storm his family went to shelter across the street with friends who had a generator, but when the power eventually came back on, they returned home and went to sleep. Around 5 a.m., something woke them up. Looking outside, they saw the water start to rise, but decided to let their son sleep — until water started seeping in through the walls.
“By the time we got help, the water was up to my knees,” Callie said.
The Lips had lived through Hurricane Katrina, but Callie said the flash floods were even more devastating because they’re parents now.
“My two-year-old (son) slipped in flood water and was covered from head to toe. He’s at an age where he’s not going to remember, but I’m going to remember,” Ricky said.
A week after the flooding, a ring circled the walls, marking how high the water had risen. The floorboards were peeling away from the ground, and doorways were so swollen that Ricky said he had to kick them open. Outside, nearly all of the Lips’ possessions were covered in mud and heaped in a pile by the curb. Their two cars still had droplets coating the inside of the windows from the moisture that had been trapped inside.
“I’m a sentimental person,” Callie said. “I had photographs and letters my husband sent me while he was in boot camp. They just crumpled in my hands.”
Unlike the predictable seasonal hurricanes around the Gulf Coast, flash floods can come so quickly that there’s little time to react and much less time to prepare.
“It’s a crazy feeling, how fast it can progress,” Ricky said.
Once the water receded, the long cleanup and recovery process began. People, even those affected by the floods themselves, helped one another immediately.
Tech. Sgt. Krystal Ramsey, of the 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, was on temporary duty during the flood. She arrived home Aug. 16 and said, while her apartment was untouched, she was struck by all the devastation she saw during her drive home.
“I’ve been helping my neighbors clean up every day, and I’ve been doing everything I can to help everyone,” Ramsey said. “I was in Gulfport during Katrina, so I know exactly what they’re going through.”
The 403rd Wing came together immediately after the flooding to help. They collected bottled water, food, charcoal grills, cleaning supplies, clothing, other basic essentials and four couches with hideaway beds and delivered the items to wing members across the Baton Rouge area Aug. 19.