More than a decade after hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana, the impoverished state finds itself in yet another natural emergency, once again as a result of historic floods, which have led to more than 7,000 people being rescued from their homes. The flooding has left at least three people dead, and a fourth person was reported missing in the floodwaters in St. Helena's Parish, officials said.
The heavy rain began on Friday, with between 6 and 10 inches of rain falling on parts of southeast Louisiana. Several more inches fell Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. "The water's going to rise in many areas. It's no time to let the guard down."
In a 24-hour period, Baton Rouge had as much as 11 inches, according to The Associated Press.
And while officials said on Sunday that the rain had subsided, dangers loomed. "It's not over," said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Sunday cited by NBC, who previously declared a state of emergency and called the floods "unprecedented" and "historic." Edwards said Sunday he didn't know how many homes had been damaged in the state, but "it's in the thousands," he said.
Edwards said crews had already rescued 7,000 people from their deluged homes. More than 5,000 people stayed in Red Cross and government-run shelters Saturday night, Department of Children & Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters added.
The Amite River in Denham Springs already has reached historic levels and is expected to rise 4 1/2 feet above the record, according to The Weather Channel. While Sunday brought drier weather, but residents in affected areas were warned to stay in their homes — unless they're told to evacuate — and off the roads.
The warning, however, came too late for over one thousand cars who have been caught in the flood on I-12. As a result, the Louisiana National Guard troops are preparing to drop water and other supplies from helicopters Sunday morning to more than 1,500 motorists who have been stranded on Interstate 12 for almost 24 hours.
Gov. Edwards' spokesman Richard Carbo said high water vehicles attempted to reach the stretch of interstate leading to Covington on Saturday, but the water was too deep to reach the motorists. Boats can't reach them, either, because there are pockets of dry land, creating islands.
Dominique Dugas of Lafayette and her family are among those stranded, WWLTV reports. "There are cars and trucks as far as the eye can see," Dugas said in a phone interview with USA Today Network of Louisiana. She and her family were on their way to a funeral in Slidell when they became stranded at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. "We've seen helicopters flying over but we've had no communication or contact with any rescue people."
Dugas said her family and others, who are stranded near Albany, walked about three miles to a convenience store for supplies, but those shelves were emptied by Saturday evening. "We're among the lucky ones," Dugas said. "There is a mother who is nursing and some older people who are really struggling." Dugas said a driver of an 18-wheeler carrying produce opened his truck and made fruit available to all.
Louisiana State Police are playing a major role in the rescue efforts as well.
"The break in the weather in the Baton Rouge area has allowed the Louisiana State Police Air Support Unit to deploy to I-12 to continue support efforts for those stranded," according to a statement from LSP released at 9:05 a.m. "Hundreds of cars are stranded on 'islands' along I-12 in eastern Livingston Parish ... Rescues were made into the night with Louisiana National Guard's high water vehicles until the rising water prevented additional access. Boats were unable to reach the stranded motorist due to the sporadic areas of dry land between the 'islands.'"
Five Louisiana State Troopers have been on the ground with the stranded motorists to communicate their needs with the Emergency Operation Center, according to LSP.