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Photos: A mother in St. Louis grapples with the impact of flooding and climate change

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Jaz'min Franks
/
NPR Next Generation Radio
LaWanda Felder, 28, has lived in Jennings for six years. She is one of hundreds of St. Louisans who are recovering from historic flooding late last summer, along with juggling motherhood and the day-to-day impact of climate change.

This story was reported in partnership with NPR's Next Generation Radio — finding, coaching and training public media's next generation.

LaWanda Felder was sitting in her car with her two young children — 20-month-old son Ahmaud Rahim and 2-month-old Aza’ali — when she received the flash flood warning.

“I just kept saying please just let me be able to make it home and don’t get caught in traffic with two kids,” she said. “The last time there was flash flooding, I was stuck on a highway for almost two hours with a newborn and my 18-month-old, and they were extremely restless.”

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Jaz'min Franks
/
NPR Next Generation Radio
LaWanda Felder, 28, tries to console 2-month-old Aza’ali while getting her 20-month-old son Ahmad Rahim ready for day care on Sept. 14 at her home in Jennings. “I just kept saying please just let me be able to make it home and don't get caught in traffic with two kids,” she said recollecting the day of the flooding. “The last time there was flash flooding, I was stuck on a highway for almost two hours with a newborn and my 18-month-old, and they were extremely restless.”

When she made it back to her Jennings home, a red brick single-family house off the highway, she expected the worst. Felder’s mother called and told her to check her basement because her cousin’s was completely flooded as a result of several hours of nonstop rain.

“When I walked down my basement steps, there was water to the first step,” Felder said. “So I gave it a few hours [… and] there was water to the third step — I was irate.”

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Jaz'min Franks
/
NPR Next Generation Radio
Lawanda Felder, 28, displays a photograph of flooding in her basement on Sept. 12 at her home in Jennings. “My mom said my cousin’s basement was flooded and I knew I was done for,” she said. “I was just like ‘if her basement flooded, I only can imagine what I’m looking like.’”
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Jaz'min Franks
/
NPR Next Generation Radio
LaWanda Felder walks through her damaged basement on Sept. 12 at her home in Jennings. “I was upset because I had just had a baby shower, and my baby shower things were down there,” she said. “I lost so many Pampers and wipes, I lost clothes, I lost my son’s sensory toys. … It makes you upset, you get upset.”

Felder is one of hundreds of St. Louis residents who experienced historic flash flooding in July. The St. Louis region received so much rain that in five hours it surpassed the daily rainfall record of 6.85 inches set in 1915. A few hours after that the area received more rainfall in six hours than it normally receives in the months of July and August combined.

“I feel as if climate change has something to do with the flooding because what people don’t understand [is] it’s affecting everywhere. It’s not just here,” she said, giving examples in her life such as: her water bill doubling, having to use smaller appliances to keep her gas bill down, considering stopping using air conditioning as much and struggling to put gas in her car as prices rose — all while raising two young children.

“It’s just hard, it’s hard,” she said. “I have two [kids] under two. … It’s just hard, and wages are not enough to keep up.”

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Jaz'min Franks
/
NPR Next Generation Radio
Sunlight bounces off of play mats, left, and LaWanda Felder, 28, gets her 20-month-old son Ahmaud Rahim out of bed to get ready for the day while holding 2-month-old Aza’ali on Sept. 14 at home in Jennings. She said she converted her basement into an area her son can play in without being hurt, which was important for a child with autism and sensory issues. "So it just made life so much harder because I had to rip up flooring, rip up carpets,” she said. “It made life so much harder than what it already was because on top of that, I had to worry about not being at home, which is his save haven."
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Jaz'min Franks
/
NPR Next Generation Radio
Portraits of Lawanda Felder and her 20-month-old son Ahmad Rahim sit in her living room on Sept. 12 in Jennings. “I lost a lot of stuff they can't be replaced,” Felder said. “It's just a small things people don't understand, it's something that you can't put a price on.”
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Jaz'min Franks
/
NPR Next Generation Radio
LaWanda Felder, 28, explains how water started dripping through her basement windows during the flooding. Felder said she rethinks storing anything in her basement because of the possibility flooding may happen again. “I still have a bit of anxiety because it rained two days ago, and I kept going down the steps to check.”
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Jaz'min Franks
/
NPR Next Generation Radio
LaWanda Felder, 28, comforts Aza’ali after strapping her into a carseat before taking her son to day care on Sept. 14.
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Jaz'min Franks
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NPR Next Generation Radio
LaWanda Felder, 28, drives her son to day care on Sept. 14. Felder said she wishes her community was closer outside of coming together during times of tragedy. “I feel as the community could be better in coming together,” she said. “There’s people out here struggling to eat. … We just need to be bound more to the people that’s near you.”
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Jaz'min Franks
/
NPR Next Generation Radio
LaWanda Felder, 28, looks down the road outside of her home in Jennings, which saw historic rainfall in late July. Felder said after the experiences she’s gone through in the past several months, she hesitates to stay in her home. “When my lease is up, I’m moving because I don’t want to take this loss again.”

Despite the challenges, Felder said seeing how climate change is impacting her children and community drives her to want to make change for the better.

“It makes you want to become more active in your community, more active in who you vote for, more active who you put into the Senate and you try to do better,” she said. “You got to be the change you want to see.”

Follow Jaz'min on Instagram at @JazB_Snappin.

Jaz’min Franks is a freelance visual storyteller based in St. Louis, Missouri and part of the 2022 NPR Next Generation Radio Project at St. Louis Public Radio.

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