A hero photographer is helping flood victims save their priceless family photos.

The water never reached Kimberly Viator's doorstep because her house sits up on a hill.

But all around her, her Youngsville, Louisiana, neighbors' homes were taking on massive amounts of water.

And all over the state, things are just as bad: Over 40,000 homes are said to have been destroyed or damaged in this year's Louisiana flooding.


An intersection is completely engulfed by floodwater. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

"We were so blessed," Kimberly said.

When Kimberly heard of people throwing away their treasured family photos because of water damage, though, she felt her heart break.

Kimberly says a family member was helping out at a neighbor's house, and they started throwing albums and albums of sopping wet photos into the garbage, assuming they were ruined.

"I said, 'No, don't do that, oh my gosh. We can try to salvage them.'"

Kimberly knew she could put her years of photography experience to use. So she posted on her professional Facebook page with a simple message, offering to do anything she could to help save photos for those in need:

For anyone in the flood area here in south Louisiana please do not throw out your wet or damaged photos. I am not just...

Posted by Kimberly Ann Photography on Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Almost immediately, thousands of cries for help filled Kimberly's inbox.

Her first challenge? Carefully thawing and drying a frozen wedding album for a nearby couple.

Removing wet photos from an album like this is tricky work, and it needs to be done fast. Photo by Kimberly Ann Photography, used with permission.

Freezing photos can help keep the images intact while you move them to a place where they can dry out properly, she says. This first batch dried perfectly with no damage, but Kimberly also fixes smearing, smudging, tears, and other kinds of damage by creating high-resolution scans of the photos, manipulating them in Photoshop, and reprinting them on photo paper.

Then there was a woman whose 10-year-old son had passed away just days before the flooding.

"Anything she had of his was still very fresh and so precious," Kimberly said. "And it was all gone."

Except for a handful of photos.

"It's something that, in the scheme ofthings, seems very meaningless compared to someone losing theirhome. But I've had people tell me, 'My home can be rebuilt, but Ican't have another photo taken with my grandfather who passed away. I can't bring back my child who passed away and this was theirlast picture,'" Kimberly said.

"It's almostlike it's the last thing they have."

The sheer number of desperate requests has been far too much for Kimberly to handle alone.

So it's a good thing people all over the world have offered to help.

Every surface in Kimberly's house is covered in photographs. Photo by Kimberly Ann Photography, used with permission.

Placing individual photos around her house, drying them, scanning them into the computer, then editing and reprinting them is massively time-consuming.

But her inspiring work has traveled far and wide. And others want to help.

"I've had an astronomical amount of people from as far as Australia offer to do Photoshop work for me. These are legitimate professionals. ... In every state in the U.S. someone has offered to help."

But that's just the digital work. When it comes to collecting and drying the photos, Kimberly is on her own, for now. She says she's running out of space in her house and is hoping to find free access to a warehouse nearby to continue her work.

The houses and automobiles of Louisiana will eventually be repaired or rebuilt.

But memories aren't so easy to replace. Playing on the floor of their parents home as a kid or being a wide-eyed teen pulling off in their first car — that's what Kimberly is fighting to save.

"There's no one else here to help," she said. "It's neighbor helping neighbor."

With neighbors like her working tirelessly to make a difference, it's hard not to feel hopeful that, one day, things will be OK in Louisiana again.

True

Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

Keep Reading Show less
via Matt Radick / Flickr

Joe Biden reversed Donald Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military earlier this year, allowing the entire LGBTQ community to serve for the first time.

Anti-gay sentiment in the U.S. military goes as far back as 1778 when Lieutenant Frederick Gotthold Enslin was convicted at court-martial on charges of sodomy and perjury. The military would go on to make sodomy a crime in 1920 and worthy of dishonorable discharge.

In 1949 the Department of Defense standardized its anti-LGBT regulations across the military, declaring: "Homosexual personnel, irrespective of sex, should not be permitted to serve in any branch of the Armed Forces in any capacity, and prompt separation of known homosexuals from the Armed Forces is mandatory."

Keep Reading Show less