By Scott Halasz
CEDARVILLE — It’s an image Bekah Luce isn’t likely to unsee anytime soon.
The Cedarville University junior nursing major and her mother, Sheri, had just walked into what was left of their home in Denham Springs, La. Thanks to four days of rain and more than three feet of water, the Luce family lost everything. Their living room resembled something words can’t describe.
“I was speechless,” the 21-year-old Luce said, trying to keep her composure sitting at table in the university’s Stevens Student Center. “Most of our childhood memories are gone. You just go in and you don’t know what to say. It was hard. It was heartbreaking.”
Photos taken by family members and posted on social media could not prepare Luce for what she was about to witness in person.
“It was a whole other story,” she said.
The home was part swamp, part ice rink.
“Our house smelled,” Luce said. “You had to grab the walls so you didn’t slip. But it was your house and your stuff was in it.”
In reality, there isn’t really much stuff left for the Luce family to salvage. A few family pictures here and there, and whatever else they could box and quickly and store above a quickly rising water level. For now, Sheri and Bekah’s father, Michael — a pastor at the Amite Baptist Church — and brothers Ashton, age 12 and Noah, 13 are living with a member of the church, a single mother who opened her home to them after the church flooded, forcing everyone taking shelter there to leave. Another sister, Mikah, had already left for Central Arkansas University and was safely tucked into her dorm before things got bad.
But even getting Mikah to school was tumultuous as the Luces found just one open route to get to Conway and then were stuck there for a few days as the local streets began to flood.
Tough road to Greene County
It was even more difficult for Bekah to make her way back to Cedarville. And it wasn’t just the flooded roadways that were suddenly impeding her education.
She had a couple boxes of personal belongings but no living essentials for her dorm. Luce had a few scholarships but between needing supplies, books and tuition, it was going to be very difficult for her suddenly homeless family come up with the money.
“After all that happened, I didn’t think I’d be able to come back here,” Luce said. “It would have been quite a bit (of money).”
Highlight “would have been” because thanks to some generous administrators, Cedarville is picking up the rest of the tab for Luce this school year, she said. Cedarville officials didn’t comment on the act of kindness. But it was much appreciated by the Luces.
“I never expected them to reach out to me and do this for me,” Bekah Luce said, adding that since her appearance on local radio and television, others have offered support.
“God provided for us through people who donated, through Cedarville University,” she said, adding that the Cedarville Bible conference will be donating its offering to Amite Baptist.
And while classes began Wednesday and Luce tried to get back to some semblance of normalcy, her thoughts still drift south more often than not.
“I got it easy because when I got here everything I needed was here,” she said. “I’m sure my parents are exhausted. They’re still cleaning up.”
A real disaster area
The Luce family has lived in suburban Baton Rouge for three years, moving there from Houston. A prolonged rain event is nothing new down there. Even a flooded front yard is no surprise for the Luces.
But the aftermath of this storm shocked everyone. When the flooding hit three feet it wasn’t near it’s peak, Luce said. Some places had water over 10 feet high. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the last natural disaster to hit the area, Luce said and described it as “not this bad.”
“The whole city looks like a dump,” Bekah Luce said. “My family and I are grateful we’re safe and our friends are safe.”
The cleanup continues and it’s going to take a long time, Luce said.
“They keep sending me pictures of stuff they’re throwing away,” she said. “It’s tough. I had two days of that and I was done. This is the (12th) day.”
And although it’s hard for Bekah to continue to look at pictures of destruction and devastation, she has managed to keep her emotions in check.
“I don’t have time for that,” she said with a smile. “You’ve got to be strong. Start rebuilding. My family is smiling. My family is laughing. I feel I can to because they are. Things aren’t important. People are important.”
Because of the expense of traveling home, Luce probably won’t make it back to Louisiana until Thanksgiving time. And truth be told, she’s happy right here in Greene County for now.
“Even though it’s hard for me to be here at the moment, I feel like this is where I need to be and this is where my family wants me to be,” Luce said.