flooding not only disrupts the living but sometimes also creates
havoc for the dead.
what happened in southwest Louisiana's Calcasieu Parish when an
overflowing Sabine River — helped by days of heavy rain —
recently pushed water inland about four miles, disturbing graves
buried in at least five cemeteries in the towns of Vinton and Starks.
parish Coroner's Office last month completed the recovery of caskets
and vaults or lids that floated from their resting places during
flooding March 12 and beyond.
Hunter, a coroner's investigator, said the graves are typically
surface vaults, meaning three-fourths of the vault is under ground
with the lid only above ground.
said 88 caskets were recovered, most from Niblett's Bluff Cemetery in
Vinton. Pictured, photo, caskets float away from a nearby
cemetery during flooding from heavy rains in Calcasieu Parish on
water is over the top of the grave for extended periods of time, the
pressure causes the grave to either pop the lid or float the entire
vault,' he said.
comparison, the graves in New Orleans are above ground because the
area is considered below sea level and would fill with water if crews
dug too deep.
said 88 caskets were recovered, most from Niblett's Bluff Cemetery in Vбinton.
was catastrophic damage there,' Hunter said.
other cemeteries affected were Wimberly in Vinton; Doyle annex,
Fountain and VFW all in Starks.
of those vaults affected weighed 1,800 to 2,000 pounds and they were
found 100 to 200 yards from the cemetery. People just don't
understand the power of water,' Hunter said.
Dalfrey, who lived about 800 feet from Niblett's Bluff, said the
graves of nine family members — including her great-grandmother —
were disrupted there and she lost her home to the floodwaters.
been very emotional,' she said, a slight break in her voice. 'But
the coroner's office has been a tremendous help. They were out
there, while the waters were still rising, tying off caskets that
had floated way.'
said because the area previously went through significant storms,
like Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike, the parish government had a
plan in place to handle grave disturbances.
had a good heads up that this was coming, having gone through it
before,' Hunter said.
crews were sent to several cemeteries in the projected flood area
before the severe weather to document and photograph where and how
many graves might be affected.
investigator said because the area previously went through
significant storms, like Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike, the
parish government had a plan in place to handle grave disturbances
gentleman swims in the flood waters that caused the festival
cancellation at Fair Grounds Race Course on April 30 in New
station wagon sits submerged after flooding in the Lake Bistineau
area in Webster Parish, Louisiana March 14
were able to secure those caskets or vaults to fence posts and in
other ways before they floated away,' Hunter said. 'We did the best
we could to make sure they would not leave the cemeteries.'
remains that did get loose have been recovered and placed in
refrigerated trucks parked at the coroner's office as investigators
begin the identification and re-interment process.
has been heartbreaking,' said Shannon Bellard-Amy, 38, of Lake
Charles, who had relatives buried at Niblett's Bluff.
know they're not [in the grave] but in a sense they are because
that's their final resting place.
came back the day after the water receded and it was like a bomb
went off in that cemetery. The devastation was unreal. Vaults were
everywhere but most devastating was that there were so many empty
had 10 relatives' graves disinterred.
they've all been found and identified,' she said. 'It's been a long
process but the coroner's office did a wonderful job. I hope they
know how much they're appreciated.'
Johnson, a retired investigator for the coroner's office who comes
back when they need extra help, said they're working diligently, yet
with care and compassion for family members
top of a boathouse is all that can be seen in the flooded area of the
Lake Bistineau community in Webster Parish Louisiana March 14
always mindful of what William Gladstone said years ago. He was an
English philosopher. He said, 'Show me the way a community cares for
its dead and I will plot with mathematical exactness, the moral
values of that community.'
I think that this is what we're seeing now in this community. These
people lost their homes and they're belongings but they care for
their dead and they're very concerned about getting their cemeteries
back in shape and they're returning that respect to the people of
this community,' he said.
Association President Tina Courville said they're urging families to
re-bury remains deeper, at least 6 feet deep, when they are returned
to their resting places.
has said graves at those levels were not disturbed. She also said the
cemetery is considering changing its bylaws requiring new burials to
be below the ground.
remain about who will pay for the reburials.
said FEMA is involved and his office, along with the police jury, is
working to come up with a workable option.
encouraging families to file for personal assistance through FEMA
which can help with the reburial process,' he said. 'This is going to
take several months. It's not a simple process. It's going to take