Isaac’s wrath mirrors Katrina for DHS trainer

Two homes destroyed in 7 years

For the second time in seven years, Destrehan High School athletic trainer George McGovern is left looking for a new residence after a hurricane destroyed his home.

McGovern had just gotten his first job as a teacher at Archbishop Hannan High School in Chalmette and was living with his parents when Katrina struck. He was lucky enough to evacuate to Baton Rouge, but the storm brought his first foray into an education career to a halt and washed away the house where he grew up.

Not only did McGovern and his immediate family lose all of their possessions and their home, but his extended family that lived nearby did also.

“Everybody in my whole family lost everything–grandmas, uncles, aunts, the whole nine yards,” McGovern said. “We all pulled up and had to find other places to go.”

The Chalmette native had to completely rebuild his life after Katrina.

“It was rough and it was hard to go through, but I think I am a better person and my family is better off because of it,” McGovern said. “It gave us an opportunity, a fresh start is a good way to put it.”

After living in a Baton Rouge hotel for five months, McGovern’s parents moved north of I-12 in Covington into a “no flood zone.” His other relatives that were uprooted spread out across the area as well.

However, it did not take long for McGovern to move on from the tragedy of Katrina. Only a few weeks after the storm hit, McGovern was hired at St. Charles Catholic High School in LaPlace. He was taken in by a family in the area and became attached to the community.

“I taught there for three years–coaching and teaching and being the athletics trainer,” McGovern said. “I taught coach (Stephen) Robicheaux’s daughter and got to know him. When the job opened up at Destrehan I talked to him a little bit and got the ball rolling.”

In 2008, McGovern was hired as an athletic trainer at Destrehan High School, but he continued to live in LaPlace where he fell in love with Kayla Roboldo, whose family lived there as well.

The two were married and bought a home across the street from his wife’s brother. His wife’s parents, aunts and uncles also lived in nearby areas. In a way McGovern had recaptured the family community he had in Chalmette. In addition, McGovern and his wife had a baby girl.

After going through Katrina McGovern took into account the possibility of flooding when buying their home.

“I bought a house in the area that was only five years old and it was graded higher than everyone else on my street,” he said. “I knew that last time they had flooded there a long, long time ago they had only gotten a couple of inches, which wouldn’t have even put it up to my doorstep.”

So when Hurricane Isaac came along seven years to the date after Katrina, McGovern was not worried about flooding in the area. The latest studies of the neighborhood actually prompted government officials to lift the designation of the area as a flood zone.

“I didn’t even have to have flood insurance anymore,” he said. “We kept it anyway.”

McGovern said the only reason he evacuated to his parent’s home for Isaac was because of his four-month-old daughter.

They rode out the storm in Covington for two days and only lost power for about 20 minutes throughout the ordeal. McGovern thought everything was OK as the winds died down and Isaac moved west. He went to sleep thinking it would not be long before his family was back in their home and back to normal.

But at 4 a.m. McGovern received a call from his brother and sister-in-law who had stayed behind.

“We had taken on water and it was filling up pretty quick and they had to get out of there,” McGovern said.

The next day he came back to the LaPlace Park neighborhood and the flood waters were so high he had to get out and wade down the street.

“We got as far in as we could with my truck and then we got out and walked in,” McGovern said.

McGovern ran into a former student who helped him get a boat and the two took it over to his home. They found it had taken on about a foot and half of water.

“I went in and tried to get some of our pictures and stuff off the walls and some of the baby stuff out that we didn’t take with us,” McGovern said. “Me and my wife lost all of our furniture because the water sat in there for so long and got everything kind of nasty. I was fortunate this time in comparison to Katrina. I was able to save a little more.”

He said the biggest problem was that the water did not subside for a number of days.

“The water turned nasty, it had gas and oil on top of it,” he said.

As soon as the pumps were turned back on and the water level began to recede, McGovern was in his home trying to clean it up – trying to reclaim his life.

“Before the water was out of the street we were floating stuff out the door to get it to the street,” he said. “I was worried about the mold with the baby. I was probably going a little bit more extreme than I needed to be, but you do what you’ve got to do when you’ve got a family.”

The DHS trainer is now finishing up demolition on the property and waiting for insurance adjusters to provide a claim on the house.

His family is separated again, but only temporarily this time.

“There are a couple of days where I don’t get to see the baby and that’s pretty rough coming off of seeing her pretty much all the time and spending a lot of time with her. My wife and the baby are up in Covington and I’m down here working,” McGovern said. “It has been a little trying, but we are getting through it pretty well and working hard at it.”

McGovern said the support he has received from the St. Charles Parish community has softened the blow. The school system is holding a fundraising benefit for him and other school staffers whose homes were flooded in LaPlace.

“The kids have been wonderful,” McGovern said. “Whether it be the players on teams asking me if they can come to my house to help, coaches coming to help, administrators, whoever it is, parents of students sending stuff for the baby or me and my wife. It has been remarkable to see the school come together around me like that, especially for somebody that is not originally from here.”

Now McGovern, with the support of the community, is working towards an ambitious goal to get his family back in their home before the end of the year.

“My goal is that my baby has her first Christmas in our house. How feasible that is I really don’t know,” he said. “It can just be sheetrock and flooring, but we are going to have Christmas in my house. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent done, but that is my goal. I think that is giving us something to look forward to and to work towards.”


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