BATON ROUGE, La. -- Like thousands of his neighbors in South Louisiana last August, LSU wide receiver Russell Gage made the panicked decision to help his family escape from their rapidly flooding home.
Seven months after the storms damaged about 146,000 homes in the region, the Gages have still not moved back into their house in Baker, about 15 miles north of LSU’s Baton Rouge campus.
“We’re putting the finishing touches on the house and everything, so it’s good,” Gage said Thursday, noting that his family expects to move back into the house in May or June.
Contractors have helped the Gages work to repair their home, but they remain among the many families who are still ensnared in a painfully slow recovery process. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated this week that 45,000 flood-affected residents are still living with friends and family and 373 more are still living in hotels.
That’s what the Gages did for more than a month after the floods, staying at a hotel close to LSU before the Federal Emergency Management Agency set them up to live in a trailer near their house until home repairs are complete.
The state government reports that more than 1,000 families remain in FEMA trailers, another painful adjustment for Gage’s family.
“At first it was difficult, especially when you can see the house [from the trailer],” said Gage, who will be a senior this fall. “But after a while of doing so, my mom’s definitely ready to move back into the house, but we’ve adjusted.”
Gage grabbed roommate Devin Voorhies and rushed home to Baker in August during preseason camp once his mother called him via FaceTime and showed him the water rushing into their home.
“Once I got there, the water was around 3 feet and rising,” Gage said at the time. “Me and my roommate were able to go and get a rescue boat to come in and get my family out to safety.”
Gage and Voorhies had parked about 5 miles from the house, so the rescue boat brought them halfway back and then the family -- Gage’s parents, sister and grandmother -- walked the remaining distance to the car. He then drove them to the hotel, where they would remain for the next several weeks.
Even in the storm’s immediate aftermath, Gage attempted to keep his family’s situation in perspective, showing resolve that has undoubtedly been tested during this drawn-out recovery process.
“The waters are gone, but the damage is done,” he said then. “We’re going to have to redo the walls and everything. But all that stuff’s replaceable. As long as my family’s safe, we’re fine.”
Gage was among several Tigers affected by last summer’s floods, a group that also includes defensive lineman Christian LaCouture, tight end Caleb Roddy, fullback Bry'Kiethon Mouton and tight ends coach Steve Ensminger.
Some of them are among residents fortunate enough to have already returned home, but the state’s recovery is still in its early stages overall.
The Louisiana government has secured $1.6 billion in disaster recovery funds, but the federal government has not released that money to the state. Gov. John Bel Edwards is lobbying President Donald Trump and Congress for at least $2 billion more, but it remains unclear where Louisiana flood recovery ranks on the federal government’s list of budget priorities.
In the meantime, the Gages and many like them will try to make the best of their unpleasant circumstances until they can get back into their homes.
“I guess you could say we’ve gotten used to it,” Gage said.