Adviser Bridgette Rushing lost everything in the devastating floods impacting Louisiana, yet instead of focusing on her own needs, she went out to rescue others using her boat.

It is a story of the Cajun and American spirit and repeated among those who have lost homes and offices in these floods, which according to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have impacted at least 40,000 homes and led to the rescue of 30,000 people and 1,000 pets. At least 11 people have died in the floods, so far.

Agents use their boats to rescue others impacted by historic flooding in Louisiana.
Agents use their boats to rescue others impacted by historic flooding in Louisiana. Health Agents for America

But, if you ask Rushing, CEO of Complete Benefit Solutions Inc. who lives in Denham Springs, La., or Trish Freeman, principal at Trish Freeman Insurance Services in Gonzales, La., who lost her office, how they feel right now, they use the words “fortunate” and “lucky.”

Freeman’s office is in a small town between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and is located in an old house she converted. That office now has six inches of water in it.

Knowing how floods progress through her area, she originally went to help her father-in-law prepare for the rising waters, as his home is susceptible to flooding. She then got a call that her office was in danger and worked through the night to try to save it, but was unable. “We had prepared as much as we could. No one — absolutely no one — in Louisiana thought this was going to happen,” she says. “We were pretty confident that [my] office would not get harmed. When it started flooding, we had to bail on my father-in-law and start picking everything up.”

She was able to save papers and client files, but lost most everything else. “There is lots of stuff we weren’t able to save,” she explains. “There was not enough time before the floods came.”

About 30 miles away in Denham Springs, Rushing’s home was flooded with up to three feet of water, and a large shop in the back of her house, where she kept her client files, was flooded with up to eight feet of water.

As agents worked to rescue others, they took this photo from their boat.
As agents worked to rescue others, they took this photo from their boat. Health Agents for America

Once the water started rising, Rushing and her fiancé had less than 30 minutes to get out of the house and on the roof. “When we woke up Saturday morning, it wasn’t supposed to come up that fast,” she says. She quickly worked to get important papers, such as birth certificates, out of the house in addition to one change of clothes. But she lost everything else.

“In [my] house, we were lucky,” she says. “We got between two and a half feet and three feet of water. We lost everything. But, people are trapped in their homes, and were pushed up into their attics and are sleeping in their attics.”

Despite her losses, she went out with her fiancé in his boat to rescue others. When asked why, she says because you are talking about people’s lives. “That’s what we do,” she says. “Anybody who had a boat … went and [rescued people.] You are talking about people stranded in their homes. Not just material things.”

Rushing says she has remained mostly calm, despite the loss, but lost it when she walked into the shop and the first thing she saw were her two kids’ baby books. “When you walk in and that is what you see, it is like, ‘Oh my God,’” she says. “I was good up until that point.”

Rebuilding
The Affordable Care Act in one respect prepared Freeman for the next steps, she says. Thinking back to its passage, “everyone was in a tizzy, nobody knew what to do, your whole world was disrupted and as crazy as it sounds, it is very similar,” she says. “We have to reorganize, get a plan and figure out how to keep moving forward and take it one step at a time.”

“You literally have to keep walking with one foot in front of the other,” she adds.

Part of the reason rebuilding is a challenge is because so many Louisianans are impacted. “In Louisiana, we are 15 generations deep, but 3-4 generations have been impacted by this flood,” Freeman explains. “So normally your [family] would come help, but everybody is dealing with their own situation.”

Inside the living room of a Health Agents for America board member.
Inside the living room of a Health Agents for America board member. Health Agents for America

It is this time that those unaffected are stepping up. After posting on Facebook about her office flooding, two clients came to help. “They said, ‘I’m helping. What can we do?,’” Freeman says. “This is the value of a small-town broker and relationships that I have with my clients. Two clients and their families, they came over Tuesday and were ripping up floors.

“I was extremely fortunate,” she adds.

How you can help
B. Ronnell Nolan, CEO of Health Agents for America, a Baton Rouge-based lobbying group was “blessed beyond words,” with no storm damage, so is stepping in to help her fellow agents.

The biggest way people can help is through manpower, she says. “These people need help cleaning houses and they can’t do anything until everything is brought to the road,” and thrown away. Nolan aims to coordinate manpower and invites anyone nearby who can help to e-mail her at ronnell@hafamerica.org.

People can also donate to national or local charities, such as the Red Cross. By texting LAFLOODS to 90999, a $10 donation will be made to the Red Cross of Louisiana or visit redcross.org.

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