Floods ravaged the US state of Louisiana Monday, leaving six people dead and thousands more forced to flee rising waters after days of catastrophic rainstorms.
More than 20,000 people had to evacuate their homes and as many as 10,000 were living in emergency shelters, officials said, after rains pummeled much of southern Louisiana starting last Thursday evening.
Over the weekend, rain accumulations totaled more than 20 inches in five parts of the New Orleans and Baton Rouge area.
A spokeswoman for Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards, Shauna Sanford, said six people have been killed in the floods. Some 40,000 homes and business were reported without power.
The White House declared four parishes — equivalent to counties in other states — major disaster areas.
“I fully expect that more parishes will be added to the declaration on a rolling basis,” Edwards said in a statement in which he called the flooding “unprecedented” for his state.
Television images showed residential areas covered in several feet of water, with cars and homes partially submerged.
While US media reported that floodwaters had begun to recede in some areas, they were flowing into others.
National Weather Service predicted that many waterways would remain above flood stage Monday. The agency continued to issue flood warnings, saying water in many areas would not recede at least for another day.
The Amite River, the source of flooding for many areas, had risen 14 feet above flood level in one reading, besting a previous record flood in April 1983, the NWS said.
“Additional rainfall may fall over the flooded area with as much as half an inch up to one inch. This will aggravate the ongoing flooding and may delay water receding,” the NWS said, forecasting the Amite won’t fall below flood level until Wednesday morning.
The White House action makes emergency federal funding available to support rescue crews and the eventual recovery.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday began asking those affected by the floods to apply for assistance, and officials said 11,000 people had already registered.
Officials reported that hundreds of roads, most in the southern parts of the state, were closed due to flooding.
“That’s going to be the case over the next couple of days,” Edwards said.
– Dramatic rescues –
The Louisiana National Guard reported that its soldiers rescued nearly 500 people and 61 pets in just the 24 hours between Friday and Saturday – by boat, helicopter, and using high-water vehicles.
“We’ve literally had hundreds of people who’ve brought boats in and have wanted to help,” said Michael Edmonson, the superintendent of Louisiana State Police.
In one dramatic rescue in Baton Rouge captured on video, rescuers on a boat pulled a woman from a car that had just slipped under water.
The woman shouts, “Oh my God, I’m drowning!”
A rescuer jumps into the murky brown water and pulls her out by the arm. When she tries to dive under for her dog, he goes underwater and reappears holding the dog.
The NWS said other areas of the United States faced threats of flash floods this week — from the Texas coast all the way up to the Ohio River Valley.
The storms threatening Texas are the same that deluged Louisiana, said NWS meteorologist Gavin Phillips. “The low, as it’s moved into the Texas area, it’s weakened a lot,” Phillips told AFP, so the state is not expected to get as much rain.