Louisiana: Flood danger persists, body pulled from waters

(AP Photo/Max Becherer)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As waters begin to recede in parts of Louisiana’s capital city, some residents struggled to return to flood-damaged homes on foot, in cars and by boat. But though the rain had mostly stopped, new places in the state faced flood dangers from the deluge that has sent thousands into shelters.

Rivers and creeks were still dangerously bloated in areas south of Baton Rouge as people filled sandbags there to protect their houses, bracing for the worst as the water worked its way south. In one area, Ascension Parish, officials said some small towns have already been inundated.

Several deaths have been reported and more than 20,000 have had to be rescued since Friday in some of the worst flooding the state has ever seen. And at least 11,000 have hunkered down in shelters to wait out the floods.

The slow-moving, low-pressure system that dumped more than 20 inches of rain on some parts of Louisiana was crawling into Texas, but the National Weather Service warned the danger of new flooding remained high due to the sheer volume of water flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico.

In and around Baton Rouge, many were anxious to check on damage. But a police officer at one Baton Rouge area roadblock warned Jack Miller that the 60-year-old was risking arrest if he tried to drive a boat on a trailer down a stretch of the highway down to just two lanes.

“I’m trying to get back to my home and rescue my cat,” Miller said.

Authorities late Monday said a body had been pulled from floodwaters in Baton Rouge, raising the toll to seven dead.

Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokeswoman for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, said a volunteer patrolling in his boat Monday found the victim in front of a library though the manner of death and the person’s identity still awaited confirmation.

State officials who had been tracking storm-related deaths could not immediately confirm the death was tied to the flooding.

Despite the dangers, people ventured out.

Karla and Johnathon McDaniel waded through chest-deep water to revisit their home they fled late Saturday night but the water was too deep to get inside.

On their way out, the McDaniels stopped to gawk at a monster truck revving its engine in a failed attempt to free a National Guard vehicle mired in a muddy ditch. It was a welcome moment of levity after days of worry around the state’s southeast, which saw thousands of water rescues.

Julee Doiron, 56, and a friend walked down the road to a flooded storage facility where she has a valuable record collection. She felt fortunate the flooding stopped a block short of her home, but she owns a couple of water-damaged rental properties that aren’t covered by flood insurance.

“None of these places are in a flood zone,” she said. “Why buy it if you don’t need it? My agent didn’t recommend it to me.”

In a state more accustomed to hurricanes, forecasters said the rains were nearly off the charts in intensity. Meteorologist Ken Graham of the National Weather Service’s office in Slidell, near New Orleans, said forecasters had alerted people days ahead of the rain. Yet the forecasts Thursday were for 8 inches of rain, with higher totals expected in some areas.

One town, Zachary, received more than 2 feet of rain in a 48-hour period that ended Saturday morning. Another, Livingston, got nearly 22 inches over the same stretch. Rivers in the region reached historic highs — occasionally shattering old records dating to 1983 floods.

As the scope of the disaster became clear, churches, schools and other places opened to take evacuees. Shelters filled up so fast that some slept on the floor because not enough cots had arrived. And some shelters had to shut down when they also took on water.

Volunteers have been dropping off supplies and food like jambalaya or red beans and rice at shelters. They have also been going out in boats — locally referred to as the “Cajun Navy” — to rescue people, supplementing the efforts of National Guardsmen, state officials and Coast Guardsmen deploying in high-water vehicles, boats and helicopters.

Jared Serigne of St. Bernard Parish said he helped organize volunteer efforts involving roughly 70 experienced boaters who helped hundreds of people from flooded communities. He criticized government officials for closing roads, blocking boats from reaching launch areas.

“You’ve got all of these people who hunt and fish who have more experience than the average first responder,” he said.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards defended the state’s response, saying unprecedented flooding “presented tremendous challenges for everyone.”

“But I’m very proud of the effort that we’re making. More than anything else, I’m proud that Louisianians are taking care of their own and people are being neighbors to one another,” he said.

___

Santana reported from New Orleans. Kevin McGill and Bill Fuller in New Orleans contributed to this report.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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