After more than a week, the residents of the tiny Louisiana town of Butte LaRose are still waiting and wondering if the flood will come. Many have packed their belongings, some have barricaded their homes behind temporary levees, and others have put the wheels back on their trailers and hit the road.
The early predictions were dire: 15 feet of water could inundate the town within days. The expected crest of the Atchafalaya River was soon lowered by a couple of feet, but the threat of serious flooding remains.
On any given day this past week, a visitor to this town six miles off I-10 would see inmates loading sandbags, Humvees rolling down the main drag and mobile homes creeping along the tiny road back toward the interstate. As people in this self-proclaimed "Swamp capital of the world" wait for the worst, Doucet's Grocery, the only store in Butte LaRose, is keeping its doors open and the beer cold.
At first glance, you'd think the store had already closed. A closer look at the aluminum screen doors reveals a handwritten sign with the hours of operation: 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Peek through the screens, and you see signs of activity inside.
There's no need for a door chime. The clanging of metal crashing against metal announces each customer's arrival as the door slams shut. Step inside past the 12-pack of beer propping the door, give your pupils a few seconds to adjust to the dim fluorescent lighting, and gaze at the aisles of goods ranging from feminine hygiene products to live bait.
Behind the counter, store co-owner Beulah Doucet sits patiently, waiting for her next customer to mosey up with a handful of goods. The sound of chirping crickets fills the air. They're the live bait, bouncing around in a wooden incubator. Overhead, abandoned wasp nest "trophies" the size of volleyballs hang from the ceiling like disco balls.
Doucet's Grocery has been a family business and town landmark for nearly 90 years. Beulah and her husband, Jack, have owned and operated the store for 48 years, ever since her parents retired and gave it to her. She still puts in 16 hours each day, stocking the shelves and working the register.
The 80-year-old Doucet says in spite of the flood warnings and calls to evacuate, she's staying with her store as long she can. She's seen floods here before. "In 1973, the gauge was 27.3, and we didn't have any water on the front of the store," she reminisces. Predictions over the past week started at 29 feet on the river gauge, and have now fallen to just above 24 feet.
The river's waters don't seem to worry Doucet nearly as much as the calamity that can accompany disaster. She's moved much of her merchandise off the lower shelves and to higher ground. The bigger concern is that the power could be cut, thawing her freezers and ruining the frozen fare inside.
Then there's the possibility of looters. Doucet has heard rumors of strangers in town posing as government officials, telling people to leave their homes immediately so they can take what they'd like. While these may only be rumors in a parish that's being heavily patrolled by law enforcement, Doucet says she's got a plan to barricade the door should she be forced to leave.
So far, evacuation remains voluntary. A mandatory order had been planned for Saturday morning, but it has been postponed until at least Monday. Even without a mandatory order, nearly everyone in town is gone. They do come back to check on their homes, but no one is staying just yet.
Doucet's Grocery is still open, and the Doucets are still there with it, even if they're now out of beer and nearly everything else. "If they allow me to stay, this is where I want to be," Beulah Doucet says. "Even if I'll be all isolated, I'll be home."