Louisiana water’s deadly rise: ‘We’re praying it stops’

Louisiana flooding

BATON ROUGE, La. — Swollen rivers in Louisiana are expected to keep rising Monday as deadly floodwaters have displaced tens of thousands of people and prompted a state of emergency.

The floodwaters have claimed at least five lives — one in Tangipahoa Parish, two in East Baton Rouge Parish and two in St. Helena Parish.

More than 24 inches of rain have fallen since Wednesday in Livingston, near Baton Rouge, making the disaster an extremely rare weather event, according to the National Weather Service. The statistical chance of such flooding occurring in any given year is 1%, the weather service said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters Sunday that more than 20,000 people had to be rescued from their homes over the weekend.

On Sunday night, President Barack Obama granted Edwards’ request for an emergency declaration to assist in response and recovery efforts. So far, the governor has deployed the Louisiana National Guard, which mobilized 1,700 soldiers to assist in search and rescue efforts. Military police are assisting local law enforcement with security.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had rescued more than 118 people and assisted more than 766 in Baton Rouge on Sunday. Private citizens also helped out.

The Louisiana Department of Health told CNN early Monday that there was a flood-related death in Tangipahoa Parish.

Police said Sunday that a woman’s body had been retrieved from inside a flooded vehicle at North Hampton. According to witnesses, the woman’s vehicle was swept away Saturday night as she attempted to turn around in high water, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office said.

East Baton Rouge Parish suffered another fatality Friday when a 68-year-old man drowned after slipping and falling in floodwaters. In St. Helena Parish, the body of an unidentified 30-year-old woman was rescued Saturday afternoon after the vehicle she was traveling in with her husband and mother was swept away. Her mother and husband were rescued.

Another man, Samuel Muse, 54, of Greensburg died Friday after floodwaters swept his vehicle off the road, CNN affiliate WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge reported.

Tom Kelly of Prairieville said he had one wish for Monday: to wake up in his own bed and put his feet on dry ground.

But he knew it was unlikely as he sat on his neighbor’s porch Sunday afternoon, watching floodwater from Bayou Manchac creep above his patio.

“It’s epic,” Kelly said of historic flooding that swept across southeastern Louisiana over the weekend. “It’s as high as I’ve ever seen it.”

Shoes, children’s toys and household items floated through knee-deep water outside his home.

With their homes largely intact, some of his neighbors consider themselves lucky.

“We’re praying it stops where it is,” said Kelly’s neighbor, Jenny Ragland, whose home on a ridge was spared similar damage.

Kelly and others planned to spend the night in Ragland’s home. Beyond that, they’re not sure what they’ll do.

Another neighbor, Brad Jacobs, hopped in a canoe and paddled across the road to his home to grab fresh clothes. Ankle-deep water filled his home; he said he hopes an insurance payout will help replace the floors.

Toni Denova just bought new furniture, but she’s not worried about it. All she wants is to preserve her family photographs against the rising floodwater.

“I have a boxful of pictures in my garage that I hope get saved. That’s all I really care about,” Denova told CNN.

‘It’s only going to get worse’

The storms that caused flooding had largely moved on by Sunday afternoon, but flood warnings remained in effect around Livingston Parish. Rivers such as the Comite near East Baton Rouge and the Tickfaw near Livingston were expected to keep rising through Monday morning, causing more backwater flooding from rivers and bayous such as the surge that affected Prairieville.

On Sunday in the town of Galvez-Lake near the Amite River, a frantic Christy Bourgeois and her husband, Tom, prepared a fan boat to assist a nearby flooded home.

“The last I heard my sister was there and it was on fire,” she said.

Nearby, people were salvaging toys, clothes and other belongings from their flooded homes. Down Highway 431, desperate families gathered at a gas station, with pickups loaded with belongings as they waited for water in their homes to recede.

Jeremy Best said he and Henri Dufrane brought their small boat from nearby Wallace to help people escape the flooding.

Best said the water is still rising.

“It’s coming up fast, man,” said Best, who was wearing little more than shorts and a pair of boat shoes. “And it’s only going to get worse.”