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Many Baton Rouge Area Schools Remain Closed Due To Flood Damage

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Rick Wentzel was helping people in his community in Livingston Parish, La., helping them into a shelter, when his wife called - their own home was flooding, and he had to go rescue her. Wentzel is also just a little more than a month into a job as superintendent of the Livingston Parish schools, schools which are now closed because of the flooding. Rick Wentzel, welcome to the program.

RICK WENTZEL: Thank you, Robert. I appreciate the invitation.

SIEGEL: Tell us about that call as you were setting up the shelter and helping people into it.

WENTZEL: Well, you know, it was interesting. And really the night before I'd been asked to open up the shelter, and I had opened it up. And I stayed there till late in the night, went back home, and my wife and I talked about flooding. We've never flooded before. We've lived there 22 years, no problems. And I went back to work the shelter the next day because they needed help and they - we were just having floods of trucks coming in.

And then my wife calls me about 8:30 that night and said, hey, the water's coming up in the back. I said, I don't think it'll be there, but if it does give me a call back. Well, it wasn't 30 minutes later she calls back and says, hey, you need to send somebody to get me. And so she said a friend of ours was coming in a boat, and I called him. And he said, yeah, I'm heading that way. I said, meet me at the gas station. It was about a mile from my house.

SIEGEL: Where are you staying now, at the shelter?

WENTZEL: Yeah, I'm at the shelter.

SIEGEL: The shelter is in one of the schools in the parish where you're now superintendent. What's the condition of the schools generally?

WENTZEL: We have 46 school sites. Fifteen - that's one-five - of those sites were affected by water in some way. We had eight that really took heavy doses of water. And I guess when I say heavy doses, I'm talking anywhere from 3 to 6 foot.

SIEGEL: But are the schools now closed parish-wide, including those that weren't flooded?

WENTZEL: Yeah. Yeah. And the reason for that is because our employees, they live all over this parish. We're probably somewhere in the neighborhood of about 3,300 employees total throughout the parish. We have, last count, pretty close to one-third of that, little bit over a thousand that were impacted by the water. And they've either had to relocate - in some cases, they've completely lost their homes. And many of those are staying with relatives, friends, family. The ones that have lost their homes, we've set up a connection with them and FEMA and trying to provide them some type of FEMA housing so that they'll be ready also when we get back to work.

SIEGEL: What's a realistic time to assume that the school year will begin in Livingston Parish?

WENTZEL: Realistic time? Oh man, that's hard to say because we're still doing evaluations of our sites to see what kind of damage has been done and how quickly we can get it up and running because we're going to need some of those facilities for us to start back. I would say in a gauge, maybe two to four weeks.

SIEGEL: There's often a touching subplot to the floods that is - what happens to all the pets? What do people do with the beloved dog in the house? Is he welcome at the shelter? Is - what do you do?

WENTZEL: Well, let me tell you. I remember that first little old lady getting off that first bus, and she had that little animal in her hand. And she came up to me knowing I was the - in charge of that facility and said, honey, will I be able to bring my pet in this facility? And I said, sweetheart, as long as you hold onto that dog and it's not aggressive it would not hurt anybody. I'm not turning you away nor that pet. And so she went into that facility, and that's the way we ran it.

SIEGEL: Well, Rick Wentzel, thanks a lot for talking with us about it today. Good luck to you.

WENTZEL: Robert, I appreciate it. And thank you for spending time with us.

SIEGEL: You bet. Rick Wentzel is the superintendent of schools in Livingston Parish, La. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.