Louisiana: Flood toll 11 dead, 40,000 homes swamped

Dee Vazquez, from left, helps Georgette Centelo and her grandfather Lawrence Roberts after they tried to recover their belongings in Central, north of Baton Rouge, yesterday. Photo / AP
Dee Vazquez, from left, helps Georgette Centelo and her grandfather Lawrence Roberts after they tried to recover their belongings in Central, north of Baton Rouge, yesterday. Photo / AP

The waters and the death toll continued to rise today in rain-battered Louisiana, as flooding of historic levels swept anew into some communities and stubbornly lingered in hundreds more.

The scope of the disaster was unprecedented, officials said. At least 40,000 homes had been damaged, Louisiana's Governor said, and 11 people have been killed since 60cm of rain began falling at the weekend.

More than 10,000 people were in shelters, kilometres of roads remained impassible, the start of the school year was cancelled and first responders began the grim work of door-to-door inspections to check for drowning victims.

Frantic relatives inundated social media, asking for help for those still stuck and those they couldn't find.

"I don't know that we have a good handle on the number of people who are missing," Governor John Bel Edwards said at a news briefing.

The number of those stranded and still needing rescue "was next to impossible to say," said Mike Steele, a spokesman for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, "and it's changing every minute".

Parishes with heavy damage imposed a curfew to keep the streets clear at night, and officials pleaded with people to stay out of neighbourhoods still hip high in muddy water. Volunteers set forth in flatboats and canoes anyway, plucking the trapped from newly flooded Ascension Parish, southeast of Baton Rouge.

When they got to Joy Garon, the flooding had already chased her from a home she thought was safe on high ground to a cousin's house. She woke up today to find the water licking at the front door.

Garon, 46, was tearful when she climbed down from an armoured vehicle that had picked her up from a volunteer boater and brought her to dry land. She was with her 74-year-old father and her husband and 16-year-old son and headed to yet another house that was still dry - so far.

"I'm devastated," she said. "I lost everything."

Redell Smith said he had been working the waters for four days and estimated that he had rescued about 300 people as part of the "Cajun Navy" of volunteers using social media to search for the trapped.

Steele said about 30,000 have been rescued by personnel with the National Guard, wildlife and fisheries, state police, state fire marshals and local agencies.

In some places, the water had receded, leaving a coating of mud and cars parked haphazardly wherever their owners managed to leave them, on median strips and even in the middle of moving traffic lanes. Cleanup began in some neighbourhoods, with mounting piles of sodden furniture dragged to the curb on block after block.

Elsewhere, the water refused to leave. A half-built apartment building in one part of the city was now half-submerged. In the parking lot of an Albertsons grocery store, aluminum skiffs floated next to swamped cars. Barely visible tops of stop signs hinted that what now appears to be a river was actually a street.

Bethany and Ben Ash left home with their two young children on Saturday as rain kept falling and the flood warnings grew more dire. They brought only what they stuffed in their car - some clothes, books, toys, a computer, iPad, phones and milk - and their two dogs, a Chihuahua and a dachshund.

"There's this thought in my mind, we just need essentials," Bethany Ash said. "We'll be back in a couple of days."

Hours after they left their home, she watched a television news reporter interview a man who had swum down their street in chest-deep water. The last update she got on her house was from a family member who had seen her neighbourhood on the news.

"All you could see was rooftops," she said.

Raymond Lieteau pulls furniture today out of his flood damaged home with the help of his friend Danny Lemoine, 48, in Baton Rouge. Photo / AP
Raymond Lieteau pulls furniture today out of his flood damaged home with the help of his friend Danny Lemoine, 48, in Baton Rouge. Photo / AP

Some who scrambled from their homes into uncertain futures asked why their plight had not received more widespread national attention. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, touched on those concerns at the news conference today, but he assured Louisianians that the federal Government was deeply aware of the breadth of the flooding.

Inside the emergency shelter in Ascension Parish, evacuees said they were being well cared for as they awaited whatever comes next. There was plenty of water, food, first aid and donated clothes, plus toys for the kids and generous air conditioning to stave off the August heat.

But no one had much more than a few bags of belongings, hastily gathered on the way out the door. And everyone had a story of escape, and amid the rows of cots, everyone could tick off a list of what was left behind.

Ed Martin, 69, lives in Prairieville on a property that backs up to Bayou Manchac.

He woke up in 10cm of water on Monday. By lunchtime, it was thigh high and still rising fast, and when the National Guard arrived to help, he agreed it was time to go.

Martin figured that he has lost his home and his vehicles, a conversion van and a 1980 El Camino. He recalled his calculations over the cost of flood insurance and his decision not to buy it. "Too late now," he said.

He shrugged. "I just bought a brand-new 70-inch TV. Watched it twice," he said. "What am I going to do about it? I'm not God, and I'm not the weatherman."

- Washington Post

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