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World & Nation

Louisiana warns that flooding may not be over: ‘There’s nothing comparable to this’

Historic flooding continued to submerge vast swaths of southern Louisiana on Sunday, stranding residents in homes and shutting down highways. As hundreds were airlifted from a church and more than 5,000 took refuge in shelters, forecasters warned that just one more inch of rain could cause more flash floods.

More than 7,000 people have been rescued in the last few days as homes — including the basement of the Governor’s Mansion — have been deluged with water. At least four people died, authorities said.

“Obviously, this is a serious event. It is ongoing. It is not over,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference, announcing he had requested a disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Waters are going to continue to rise in many areas. This is no time to let your guard down.”

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

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Rain has been torrential for days, with many areas around Baton Rouge, La., receiving 10 to 15 inches in 48 hours. More than 21 inches of rain had fallen in Livingston, near Baton Rouge, from Thursday morning to Saturday morning, said Andrew Ansorge, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Louisiana.

“It’s historic,” Ansorge said. “There’s nothing really comparable to this.”

Among the deaths reported so far was that of a 68-year-old man, William Mayfield, who died Friday in Zachary, 16 miles north of Baton Rouge, after he slipped and fell into a flooded ditch near his trailer.

Another body was pulled from a submerged pickup truck Friday evening near Louisiana Highway 10. According to the Louisiana State Police, Samuel Muse, 54, of Greensburg was swept off the road after attempting to drive through high water.

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On Saturday, a woman’s body was pulled from the Tickfaw River in St. Helena Parish, northeast of Baton Rouge. The woman had been riding home from a hospital on Friday morning when floodwaters swept the car into the river. Rescuers found her husband and another family member clinging to trees, said Michael Martin, chief of operations for the St. Helena Parish Sheriff’s Office.

And late Sunday, Devin George, Louisiana’s registrar for vital records, said the Tangipahoa Parish coroner had confirmed a 59-year-old man had drowned. He was last seen Friday walking along Highway 440 in Tangipahoa city, where he is believed to have been swept away by the current. His name was not immediately made public.

Volunteers pull a boat with a woman and young child as they evacuate from their homes on Aug. 13 in Baton Rouge, La.
Volunteers pull a boat with a woman and young child as they evacuate from their homes on Aug. 13 in Baton Rouge, La.
(John Oubre / Advocate )

“Now we’ve rescued everyone, we’re trying to repair,” Martin said, noting that 110 residents were in shelters in Greensburg, a city of barely more than 700 that was largely cut off by the floods. Officials were focused on fixing sections of major highways that had been washed away, he said.

Although the storms that created the flooding had subsided and moved to the west, forecasters warned that lingering scattered showers could exacerbate the flooding in the Baton Rouge area. About 1 inch of rain was forecast over south-central Louisiana and 1 to 2 inches across east Texas and western and central Louisiana.

“Any rainfall that falls over those areas that have had already had flooding — even if it’s only 1 or 2 inches — it’s definitely not going to help,” Ansorge said.

As the sun started shining Sunday morning, Edwards urged residents to remain in their homes and off the roads. “Even a typical afternoon summer thunderstorm has the potential to cause flooding,” he said.

It was too early to say how many homes had been damaged, Edwards said, but it was probably in the thousands. Across Louisiana, more than 5,000 people stayed in Red Cross and government-run shelters Saturday night, said Marketa Garner Walters, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Children & Family Services.  

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“Things are still escalating, and we’re still in saving-lives mode,” said Col. Edward Bush, a public affairs officer for the Louisiana National Guard, which has mobilized 1,700 personnel and rescued 3,500 people and 400 pets across 12 parishes. “The biggest challenge is the rivers are continuing to rise and the flood conditions are changing.”

Louisiana National Guard’s high-water vehicles rescued stranded motorists Saturday night until rising water prevented access. By Sunday afternoon, hundreds of drivers remained stuck on islands of dry highway land. Some were choosing to stay because they didn’t want to leave their vehicles and possessions. Helicopters were dropping food and bottles of water on Interstate 12 to stranded motorists.

A vehicle is submerged in floodwaters in Youngsville, La., Aug. 14.
A vehicle is submerged in floodwaters in Youngsville, La., Aug. 14.
(Scott Clause / Layfayette Advertiser )

More than 200 people were airlifted from Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge and dropped off at the Baton Rouge police hangar. Scores of residents in a Baton Rouge nursing home were also rescued, as well as a solitary resident who was found clinging to a streetlight on a submerged bridge over the Comite River.

Harrowing rescue attempts were shared on social media. A video from CBS affiliate WAFB showed men aboard a boat attempting to rescue a woman from a red convertible that was almost submerged in murky brown water.

“Oh my God, I’m drowning,” the woman, who is not visible, yells from her vehicle.

“We’re coming, we’re coming,” a man reassures her as rescuers attempt to break her window and rip open the convertible’s fabric roof.

“Please help me,” she cries as the car disappears under the water.

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A man jumps out of the boat, tears through the roof of the convertible and reaches down for the woman’s wrists to pull her out of the car. Frantically, she pleads with him to find her dog.

“I think she’s gone,” the rescuer tells her as he ducks underwater. A few seconds later, he pops up. “I’ve got your dog,” he says.

Jarvie is a special correspondent.

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UPDATES:

5:22 p.m.: This article has been updated throughout with staff reporting.

This article was originally posted at 12:45 p.m.


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