Louisiana faces ongoing flood danger as Obama declares federal disaster zone

More than 20,000 people required rescue in a storm that put 12,000 people in shelters and killed at least six, and the state’s governor says ‘it is not over’

Barack Obama declared Louisiana a federal disaster zone on Sunday after historic flash floods in the state left at least six people dead and caused more than 20,000 people to be rescued.

The storm has put another 12,000 people into temporary shelters, Governor John Bel Edwards said during a press conference. Residents were pulled from water-logged homes, flooded cars and at-risk hospitals across the southern portion of the state, he said.

Despite sunny skies on Monday morning, more severe storms from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley were expected later in the day and week, potentially complicating relief efforts in the state.

“Even with the sunshine out today intermittently, the waters are going to continue to rise in many areas, so this is no time to let the guard down,” Edwards said, describing the flooding as unprecedented. “This is a serious event. It is ongoing. It is not over.” He urged people to stay vigilant.

Obama issued the disaster designation shortly after speaking with Edwards on Sunday, the White House said in a statement.

The US president’s orders make federal aid available in the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St Helena and Tangipahoa. Other parishes could be added.

Rivers in the Baton Rouge area have started to fall, but still remained above flood stage, setting record levels over the weekend, the National Weather Service said Monday.

“The rivers and streams north of Interstate 12 have crested and have started to drop, while those south of the interstate continue to rise,” meteorologist Mike Efferson said.

On Monday morning the Comite River, just east of Baton Rouge, dropped nearly two feet from a 34.2-feet level over the weekend. Flood stage is 20 feet. The Amite River at Denham Springs was at 43.5 feet on Monday, after reaching 46.2 feet. Flood stage is 29 feet.

“The area around Baton Rouge could see up to a half-inch of rain Monday, with a 40 to 50% chance in the forecast,” Efferson said.

At least 1,700 members of the Louisiana National Guard were activated as a part of relief efforts.

Across southern Louisiana on 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.

In Livingston Parish, phone service was spotty due to the high waters and most shelters were full. A Greyhound bus traveling from Memphis, Tennessee, to Baton Rouge was diverted to a shelter because of flooded roadways.

Louisiana state police Col Michael Edmonson said helicopters were transporting food and water to those still trapped by floods. Helicopters were also transporting some seriously ill people to areas outside the high waters.

While the epicenter of the worst damage, Louisiana wasn’t the only state in the region subject to violent weather over the last several days.

The Mississippi emergency management agency said early Monday that damage reports were coming in on the flooding in neighboring Mississippi.

Greg Flynn, an agency spokesman, said that at least 71 homes were damaged by flooding in southern Mississippi.

Flynn said there are 67 people in the shelter opened in Natchez on Saturday. The Mississippi Department of Human Services and American Red Cross are managing the shelter.

The National Weather Service says southwest Mississippi received over 14 inches of rain late Thursday and Friday.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


Tom Kutsch and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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