National Guard soldiers and other officials in boats and helicopters plucked more than 1,000 people from their homes and cars as “unprecedented, historic” flooding swamped Louisiana, the governor said Saturday, warning that the slow-moving storm would dump even more rain and cause further problems.
At least two people were killed when swift-moving water quickly inundated roads and searches were ongoing for missing people.
“This is an ongoing event. We’re still in response mode,” Gov John Bel Edwards said, urging residents to heed warnings to evacuate and not rely on their past experiences because the state has never seen flooding like this before.
Beginning Friday, 6 to 10 inches of rain fell on parts of Louisiana and an additional 4 to 6 inches was possible Saturday afternoon, National Weather forecaster Donald Jones said.
Mississippi and Alabama were also struggling with heavy rainfall.
In Baker, just north of Baton Rouge, residents said they had to be rescued by boats or wade though waist-deep, snake-infested 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.
John Mitchell, 23, said he swam to safety with his pit bull after police officers in a boat picked up his 20-year-old girlfriend, Haybriel Thomas; her 1 year-old daughter, Kaylee; and Mitchell’s father.
“This is the worst it’s been, ever,” Mitchell said of the flooding. “We tried to wait it out, but we had to get out.”
Mitchell fears he lost their trailer home and his car, which was flooded up to the seats. A bag of clothes was all he had time to save as the water levels rapidly rose.
“People are keeping it together better than I thought they would,” he said of the roughly 60 people who stayed at the Red Cross shelter.
Shanita Angrum, 32, said she called 911 on Friday morning when she realised flood waters 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.”
Angrum said her family probably lost most of their possessions, including two cars and the new school clothes she purchased for her daughter.
“We got to start all over,” she said.
The storm system was drifting slowly west from southeast Louisiana to an area along the central Gulf coast.
Edwards declared a state of emergency Friday. The flooding has forced Edwards and his family out of the Governor’s Mansion, where chest-high water had filled the basement and electricity to the building had to be cut off.
“That’s never happened before,” he said.
The governor and his family have been relocated to a state police facility in the Baton Rouge area, and his home in the hard-hit area of Tangipahoa Parish hasn’t taken any water.
One man died Friday after slipping into a flooded ditch near the city of Zachary, said East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s spokesman Casey Rayborn Hicks, who identified the victim as 68-year-old William Mayfield.
A second victim was found in St. Helena Parish, where crews pulled a body from a submerged pickup on Louisiana Highway 10.
State Sen. Bodi White, who represents some of the hardest-hit areas in the suburbs around Baton Rouge, said water has reached levels that were never recorded during 1983’s record flood.
“This is going to be water we’ve never seen,” he said Saturday. “They were getting people off roofs in St. Helena Parish.”
Numerous rivers in southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi were overflowing. The governor said some were expected to crest more than 4 feet above previous records and officials were not sure just how widespread the damage would be.
In a 24-hour period, Baton Rouge reported as much as 11.34 inches of rain compared with 2.34 inches at New Orleans’ international airport in Kenner. A weather service meteorologist said one weather observer reported 17.09 inches of rainfall in Livingston.
The Comite River near Baton Rouge and Amite River near Denham Springs, both in Louisiana, were predicted to set record crests over the weekend.
The Tickfaw River, just south of the Mississippi state line in Liverpool, Louisiana, was already at the highest level ever recorded.
In southwest Mississippi, Leroy Hansford, his wife and stepson were among those rescued near Gloster.
Hansford, 62, said waters from Beaver Creek, which is normally more than 400 feet away from his house, rose quickly overnight. He said another stepson who lives nearby alerted him.
“We woke up and the water kept on coming,” Hansford said. “It came up to my waist.” His wife told Hansford that it’s the highest she’s seen the creek in the 48 years she’s lived there.
In Crosby, Mississippi, more than 50 people flooded out of a neighborhood will be housed at a shelter in Natchez.
Wilkinson County Chancery Clerk Thomas Tolliver said an apartment complex and surrounding houses in the town were flooded after 10 inches of rain fell. Authorities said they expect to shelter displaced Crosby residents at least until Monday.