Scores homeless in wake of Louisiana floods

Michael Kunzelman
Associated Press

Tickfaw, La. — Robert and Gwen Arceneaux endured a sleepless night Sunday after noticing floodwater creeping into their home — in a neighborhood that had never seen water before.

They gathered up their dogs and a few bags of belongings and fled out the back door, eventually wading through waist-deep water to a passing National Guard truck. Now safe at a movie studio-lot-turned-shelter their worries weren’t over, as they tried to get medication for Robert, who suffers from lung cancer.

“We need to get somewhere safer,” Gwen said, as her dogs panted heavily under the hot sun.

Across southern Louisiana Sunday, residents scrambled to get to safety as rivers and creeks burst their banks, swollen from days of heavy rain that in some areas came close to two feet over a 48-hour period. Four people have been reported dead.

In high-water vehicles, boats and helicopters, emergency crews hurried to rescue scores of south Louisiana residents as the governor warned that it was not over.

From the air homes in southwest Louisiana looked more like little islands surrounded by flooded fields. Farmland was covered, streets descended into impassable pools of water, shopping centers were inundated with only roofs of cars peeking above the water.

From the ground it was just as catastrophic. Drivers tried to navigate roads where the water lapped at the side or covered the asphalt in a running stream. Abandoned cars were pushed to the side of the road, lawn furniture and children’s toys floating through the waters.

The low pressure system that wreaked such havoc moved into Texas, but the National Weather Service warned that there’s still danger of fresh floods, as swollen rivers drain toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the rivers have crested, but several are still rising.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday morning that at least 7,000 people have been rescued so far. Edwards called on people to refrain from going out to “sightsee” even as the weather gets better.

“This is a serious event. It is ongoing. It is not over,” said the governor.

Mike Steele, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness,

said the flooding that started Friday has damaged more than 1,000 homes in East Baton Rouge Parish, more than 1,000 homes in Livingston Parish, and hundreds more in other areas, including St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes.

Gov. Edwards declared a state of emergency Saturday, calling the floods “unprecedented.” He and his family were even forced to leave the Governor’s Mansion when chest-high water filled the basement and electricity was shut off.

In one rescue Saturday, two men on a boat pulled a woman from a car almost completely underwater, according to video by WAFB. The woman yells from inside the car: “Oh my god, I’m drowning.”

David Phung jumps into the brown water and pulls the woman to safety. She pleads with Phung to get her dog, but he can’t find it. After several seconds, Phung takes a deep breath, goes underwater and resurfaces — with the small dog.

As of Sunday morning, some 5,050 people were staying in parish and Red Cross shelters, said Department of Children & Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters. Even more people were staying in private shelters like churches.

Around Baton Rouge, worried family members tried to locate relatives. Wayne Muse, 68, ran into a police roadblock on Sunday morning in east Baton Rouge, where rapidly rising water is flooding neighborhoods near the juncture of the swollen Amite and Comite rivers.

Muse said he has been trying in vain to reach or contact his 86-year-old mother since Saturday night, when she told him by phone that she had two inches of water inside her retirement home apartment.

“She said they were going to evacuate them but no one could get to them,” Muse said.