Thousands rescued, some killed in extensive flooding in Louisiana

Emergency crews worked through the night to rescue thousands of south Louisiana residents from homes and stranded cars as deadly flooding continued to inundate large swaths of the region Sunday, three days after rain-swollen water levels began rapidly rising.

Mike Steele, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said there was an overnight spike in flood rescues in the eastern part of Baton Rouge. He said two nursing homes in that area were being evacuated.

Police also were rescuing people from dozens of cars that were stranded on a kilometres-long stretch of Interstate 12, which was closed from Baton Rouge to Tangipahoa Parish.

“It never slowed down last night,” Steele said Sunday morning. “For the last few hours, there has been just as much activity as at any point.”

Steele said the flooding that started Friday damaged more than 1,000 homes in East Baton Rouge Parish, more than 1,000 homes in Livingston Parish, and hundreds more in other areas, including St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes.

In one dramatic rescue Saturday, two men on a boat pulled a woman from a car almost completely underwater in Baton Rouge, according to video by WAFB. The woman, who’s not initially visible on camera, yells from inside the car: “Oh my god, I’m drowning.”

One of the rescuers, David Phung, jumps into the brown water and pulls the woman to safety. She pleads with Phung to get her dog, but he can’t find it. After several seconds, Phung takes a deep breath, goes underwater and resurfaces — with the small dog. Both the woman and dog appeared OK.At least three deaths have been blamed on the flooding.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency, calling the floods “unprecedented” and “historic.” He and his family were even forced to leave the Governor’s Mansion when chest-high water filled the basement and electricity was shut off.

“That’s never happened before,” said the governor, whose family relocated to a state police facility in the Baton Rouge area.

“We are still in the response phase of this flood event,” Edwards told reporters.

He said cresting on flooded rivers is “starting to happen.”

“The crests are moving south very slowly, so there are areas that have not seen maximum floodwaters yet,” said Edwards, adding that there will be more road closures.

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The governor toured flood-ravaged areas by helicopter later Saturday after rivers and creeks burst their banks and warned Louisiana residents it would be too risky to venture out even after the rains start to subside.

In addition to the three confirmed deaths, Edwards said, at least one person is missing.

Maj. Doug Cain, spokesman for the Louisiana State Police, says approximately 18,000 people have been rescued from East Baton Rouge and Livingston Parishes.

Governor warns against complacency

One of the worries, the governor said, is that as the rain lessens in the next several hours, people will become complacent and feel too at ease in areas where waters may still be rising for several days, getting in cars in areas that could still be dangerous.

“I’m still asking people to be patient. Don’t get out and sight-see,” Edwards said. “Even when the weather is better, it’s not safe.”

Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson told Sunday’s media briefing there are 200 road closures across the state.

Elsewhere, rescues continued late Saturday, including missions by crews in high-water vehicles who pulled motorists from one swamped stretch of Interstate 12 between Baton Rouge and nearby Tangipahoa Parish. Cain said about 125 vehicles became stranded on the 11-kilometre stretch, prompting those rescues.

During an aerial tour, an Associated Press reporter saw homes in parts of rural Tangipahoa Parish that looked like little islands among flooded fields. Farmland was covered and streets descended into impassable pools of water.

In the Livingston Parish city of Denham Springs, a suburb of Baton Rouge, entire shopping centres were inundated, only roofs of cars peeking above the water. And in many places, the water was still rising, with days before rivers were expected to crest.

At the end of the day Saturday, Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard said 2,000 people in his parish alone had been rescued, and more people still await help.

“We haven’t been rescuing people. We’ve been rescuing subdivisions,” he said. “It has not stopped at all today.”

In Baker, just north of Baton Rouge, residents were rescued by boats or waded through waist-deep, water to reach dry ground. Dozens of them awoke Saturday morning on cots at a makeshift Red Cross shelter only a few blocks from their flooded homes and cars.

‘Snakes were everywhere’

Shanita Angrum, 32, said she called 911 on Friday morning when she realized floodwaters had trapped her family in their home. A police officer carried her six-year-old daughter, Khoie, on his back while she and her husband waded behind them for what “felt like forever.”

“Snakes were everywhere,” she said. “The whole time I was just praying for God to make sure me and my family were OK.”

Beginning Friday,150 to 250 millimetres of rain fell on parts of Louisiana and several more inches of rain fell on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Some areas got even more rain. In a 24-hour period, Baton Rouge had as much as 275 millimetres while one weather observer reported more than 430 millimetres in Livingston.

Forecasters expected a turn to the north Sunday by the system, warning portions of central and northern Louisiana could see heavy rain into next week.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency for several counties in his state as it also battled the heavy rainfall.

Low pressure system moves into Texas

A National Weather Service meteorologist says the low pressure system that drenched south Louisiana has moved into Texas.

But Gavin Phillips says there’s still danger of fresh floods, as swollen rivers drain toward the Gulf of Mexico.

He says most of the rivers have crested, but several are still rising. Phillips says the biggest danger is in East Baton Rouge Parish and the triangle created by Interstates 55, 10 and 12, including Livingston and Ascension parishes.

He said there could be flooding later in the week when the water arrives in St. James Parish, directly south of Ascension.

Phillips says there’s still a chance of thunderstorms all week, but that’s normal in the summer.

[Source: CBS news]