Louisiana restaurant operators began recovering Monday after devastating rains that caused historic flooding in the southwestern part of the state.
An extreme storm system dumped more than 24 inches of rain on the region between Wednesday and Sunday, and was moving Monday into Illinois.
Flooding in Louisiana killed at least seven people, forced more than 10,000 residents into shelters, and closed many major thoroughfares and other roads. The U.S. government on Sunday declared four parishes — Tangipahoa, St. Helena, East Baton Rouge and Livingston — major disaster areas.
“We have had many members of our management and hourly team in and around Baton Rouge lose everything from cars to homes to pets,” said Scott Taylor, president and chief operating officer of Baton Rouge, La.-based Walk-On’s Enterprises LLC, in an email Monday.
Walk-On’s newest location, a unit that opened in late March, in Denham Springs, La., just east of Baton Rouge, was under seven feet of water, Taylor said. Other Walk-On’s units in Louisiana were also affected, he said, especially two in Baton Rouge and one in Lafayette, La. The chain has eight restaurants in the state.
“Our other locations are open, but staffing is a challenge with many people affected. It seems like everyone has been affected, with friends or family being displaced,” Taylor said.
“This flood is the worst ever for people here,” he said, adding that damage to homes and personal belongings in the Baton Rouge area was more devastating than Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Taylor said Walk-On’s employees had not been able to get to the Denham Springs location Monday other than by boat to assess the damage.
“We believe we can rebuild in two to two and half months once we get started, and have already ordered new kitchen equipment, furniture and fixtures so we can get the process moving along quickly,” he said. “We plan to set up a mobile restaurant with a large air-conditioned tent so we can begin to service the community and get some of our 140 displaced employees back to work.”
Michael Poates, president of Fort Worth, Texas-based Gatti’s Pizza and equity partner Sovrano LLC, said in an email that it was too early to know the scope of the flooding, but the chain’s franchised location in Denham Springs was under water “and very likely totaled.”
“Our Crowley [La.] location has also been affected,” Poates said, adding that the restaurant appeared to be fine, but flooding of roads had cut off access to the unit.
"It’s a very tragic situation and we've sent out a notice to our franchise community to keep everyone in the area in their prayers,” he said. “Once the waters subside we are ready to do whatever we are able to do to help our franchisees get back on their feet."
Meanwhile, chefs in New Orleans pitched in Monday to provide meals and supplies to victims of the flooding, setting up a “Baton Rough Flood Outreach” Facebook page.
In an effort led by Langlois chef and owner Amy Cyrex-Sins, nearly 300 people were planning to deliver meals, snacks, bottled water and non-perishable items to residents.
“There are many stories of tragedy and loss in South Louisiana from the storms this past weekend, but this area will work together like family and rebuild,” Taylor said.