North Baton Rouge Neighborhoods Devastated with Little Progress Eight Weeks After Flood
Riding through North Baton Rouge neighborhoods near the intersection of North Foster Drive and Winbourne Avenue can be disconcerting. The area looks like a war zone, and in fact it has been at war with record floodwaters and now with the possibility that many, perhaps most, houses will not be rebuilt.
But at night, things are even more bleak. A survey of 400 homes around 9 p.m. one evening last week showed only about 40 had electricity and no more than 20 appeared occupied.
The damage is as great as anything in Central or Livingston Parish.
On Conrad Drive, right off Winbourne, some houses took six to eight feet of water and are badly damaged. Debris is still piled high in front of houses.
In recent years, many of the homes have been purchased for rental property. Unfortunately, most of these sustained serious damage. Many were uninsured, and FEMA has no program to aid landlords of houses like these.
It is a dramatic turnabout for the neighborhood, which was filled in the 1960’s with plant workers and their families. They shopped at family-owned businesses along Winbourne Avenue.
Within three blocks of the corner of North Foster and Winbourne were Dykes Grocery; Baton Rouge Meat Supply; Gibson’s Barbecue; a snowball stand; Lamonica’s TV & Appliances; a physician’s office; two service stations; a bakery; a Pak-a-Sak store, and barber and beauty shops.
Today, Winbourne Avenue between North Foster Drive and Istrouma High School is a blighted area with many rundown, vacant storefronts. A few businesses thrive but many are in ruins and cannot be repaired.
For years, the neighborhood has been fighting a losing battle against blight and violent crime. But the Flood of August 2016 appears to be a fatal blow for many homes and perhaps entire neighborhoods.
The Istrouma Advisory Committee, a committee appointed by East Baton Rouge Parish schools Supt. Warren Drake to advise him on the reopening of Istrouma High School on Winbourne, is recommended the creation of a beautification district along Winbourne Avenue from North Foster to Plank Road.
The committee will ask the Metro Council to approve the district and push for enforcement of existing building codes and zoning laws in the area.
A visual survey of the area shows countless violations simply from what can be seen from the street.
Along Conrad Drive from North Foster to Winbourne — a distance of about three blocks, every house was flooded. Some have also been buglarized.
Three people from Honduras were working at one home. One said her boss owned the house. After the cleanup, he brought in kitchen and bathroom fixtures but they were stolen, she said.
Three long-time residents from the 1960’s live on the street but only one has been able to reoccupy his home, O.K. Knighten, who uses the house as a kennel for his guard dog business as he has for many years. He hasn’t had to worry about crime!
Larry Patin, a former police officer, has been busy cleaning up his mother’s house. She only got a few inches of water, but the damage has been enough to consume most of Patin’s free time for the past eight weeks.
Most of the houses on Conrad seem sturdy enough to save, but whether that will be economical is another matter.
For now, reconstruction in the neighborhood is confined to a small number of homes, and things are moving very slowly.