The floodwaters crept toward his mother’s home.
Then Deon Simon lost contact with her.
Panic washed over the Jets defensive lineman as he tried in vain to reach his mother. Last he heard, the water was rising steadily. There was no telling where she was.
More than 1,300 miles northeast of his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Simon tried to keep calm and think rationally. But with each passing minute, he couldn’t help but wonder: “Where could she be? Did somebody have to get her in a boat and take her to higher ground?”
As of Tuesday, at least 11 people had died, officials said, from the record-breaking rain and flooding that inundated southern Louisiana. While communities remain underwater after what Gov. John Bel Edwards described as “historic” and “unprecedented” torrential rain, Louisiana natives Simon, Matt Forte and Ronald Martin, discussed the devastation’s aftermath Tuesday after Jets practice.
“A lot of my friends lost a lot,” said Simon. “Basically just lost everything.”
The lucky ones
Simon, a 2015 seventh-round pick, said he saw a photo of flooding on Instagram a few days ago but didn’t realize the scope of the damage. Then he saw videos on social media “of people trying to get out of their houses, and boats and all kind of rescue people.”
He immediately contacted his mother, who told him it had started flooding near her home in the Glen Oaks area of Baton Rouge. But when he tried to get in touch with her again, he couldn’t get through.
“The AT&T service was down, so I was panicking,” said Simon. “Because they kept saying the water was rising overnight, so I didn’t want her to get stuck in that and not have a way out.”
Eventually, he was able to track his mother down and she assured him that she — and the house — were fine. “It’s a blessing,” he said. “She said the water didn’t even touch our house.”
Asked about his relationship with his mom, Simon beamed and said: “We’re real tight. Real tight. That’s my baby.”
Forte said he expected to see flooding in different areas but initially assumed his parents and his brother’s family in Slidell would be OK. “If it was another hurricane coming in, I’d be concerned,” said the Jets’ No. 1 running back and former Tulane standout.
Still, he had to be certain.
“Once I saw how bad it got, I called them to make sure they were all right,” Forte said.
Martin, who’s from Bayou Goula — about 25 miles south of Baton Rouge — said most of his family was unaffected by the flooding. But the home his first cousin shared with a roommate sustained flood damage.
“People came in a boat and picked them up,” said the 23-year-old Jets safety, who played at LSU. “They say they should be fine.”
This is home
A reported 60,000 people statewide have signed up for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to Gov. Edwards. And on Sunday, President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in the state.
Before heading to Jets practice Tuesday, Simon checked in with his neighbors in Baton Rouge, as well as high school and college friends.
“I talked to a couple of my friends this morning and they were in their houses already cleaning up,” he said, describing how “helpless” he feels being in New Jersey. “A lot of stuff is already mildewed. I tell them, ‘I wish I was there to help you.’”
Martin’s family may have gone largely unscathed by the floods, but his heart still goes out to people in his home state. “I’m very devastated for the people back in Louisiana. I send a prayer up to all of them back home and I’m praying for them each and every day. I hope everything gets better. …Everybody’s gotta come together, fix things up and we’ll be fine.”
Many in southern Louisiana will have to rebuild, just like Gulf Coast residents had to do after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the region in 2005. More than 1,200 people died as a result of the storm and subsequent flooding.
Forte had just left for college when his parents moved into their new home in Slidell in 2004.
“We were a year into the house when Katrina hit,” he said.
The house had to be gutted after the carpet, all of the furniture, and even the sheetrock were ruined. But Forte knows his family was lucky.
His parents briefly considered relocating after Hurricane Katrina but couldn’t bring themselves to leave.
“They didn’t want to go through something like that again, but at the same time, they had been there a long time,” said Forte, whose mother is a Lake Charles, Louisiana native. His father, Gene, also played football at Tulane.
“They made a family there and we grew up there. So it’s like, we’ve been here the whole time, we don’t want to let it scare us off. You never run from your problems.”
Martin and Simon said their families never considered leaving, even after the latest round of flooding.
“It’s home. Nobody wants to leave home,” Martin said, smiling. “Especially down there. They’re a pretty close-knit people down there.”
Simon said his mother refused to leave her house over the weekend, even with the threat of rising waters.
“My cousins and my uncle went to my mom’s house to try to get her to leave and she said she’s not leaving until the water’s touching the house,” he said. “I’m not sure what it is exactly, but there are a lot of people that’s from Louisiana and the down south area that just don’t want to leave. I don’t know what it is. You couldn’t pay them to leave.”