Jessica May escaped New Orleans days before Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and made a new life in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. All was going well until one month ago, she said, when her home went up in flames.
After the fire, she and her partner, Denard Singleton, moved with their six kids, ages 4 to 10, into Singleton’s parents’ home in Denham Springs.
Then, on August 13, she had to flee again — this time, from the Amite River, which rose so quickly she had virtually no time to prepare.
Neighbors “were banging on the door at 6 o’clock in the morning,” May said. “We walked out, and you could see the water rising.”
She and her family waited for about an hour for a rescue boat.
“I was scared. I was like, ‘How are we going to get out of this?'” she wondered.
May and her family were among tens of thousands of people forced from their homes in the state’s historic and deadly flooding.
More than 20 inches of rain have fallen in and around Baton Rouge since last week, and more is on the way, forecasters said. Scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected to continue through the week.
The disaster is blamed for at least nine deaths: six in East Baton Rouge Parish, two in St. Helena Parish and one in Tangipahoa Parish, local officials said.
The US Coast Guard and other first responders rescued more than 20,000 people over the weekend. Civilians helped out in some cases. In one remarkable example captured on video, David Phung pulled a woman and her dog from her car after it had plunged underwater.
May and her family were among those rescued. After getting ferried away on a boat, she said, they walked on a flooded interstate in hopes of finding drier ground.
“Good God the water wasn’t high” on the interstate, she said. “My kids were able to walk through the water.”
Rescue by helicopter
The Coast Guard said it has rescued more than 118 people and assisted more than 766 people in Baton Rouge. Some flooding victims were rescued by helicopter.
The disaster forced the closure of schools in East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St. James and Tangipahoa parishes as well as Louisiana State University.
President Barack Obama has granted the governor’s request for an emergency declaration to assist in response and recovery efforts. Gov. John Bel Edwards has deployed the Louisiana National Guard, which mobilized 1,700 soldiers to assist in search and rescue efforts. Military police are assisting local law enforcement with security.
Edwards said he expects to have close to 30 parishes declared disasters — nearly half of the state’s 64 parishes.
“We’re going to have standing water all over south Louisiana,” Edwards told CNN. “We’re going to have more than our share of mosquitoes. And with the Zika threat, we need assistance to spray for mosquitoes and for mosquito control and abatement. That is made available to us as a result of the declaration.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Ben Beard said experts will be monitoring the situation, but generally, the agency is not concerned about floods triggering the spread of the Zika virus. Mosquitoes that transmit diseases are killed by the same rains that cause the flooding, experts say. Large rain events can actually reduce the number of disease-transmitting mosquitoes.
Details on flooding deaths
Six people died in East Baton Rouge Parish, the mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said. Among them, a woman who was found dead inside a flooded vehicle. She was seen Saturday night attempting to turn around in high water when her vehicle was swept away.
The Louisiana Department of Health reported a flood-related death in Tangipahoa Parish.
Two people died in St. Helena Parish, Lisa Ballard with the sheriff’s office said. The body of a 30-year-old woman was found Saturday afternoon after the vehicle she was was riding in was swept away. And Samuel Muse, 54, of Greensburg died Friday after floodwaters swept his vehicle off the road, CNN affiliate WAFB reported.
A 68-year-old man drowned after slipping and falling in floodwaters.
‘We’re praying it stops where it is’
Neighbors Brad Jacobs and Erik Lang woke up to survey the mess caused by floodwaters surrounding their homes. Shoes, children’s toys and household items floated through knee-deep water on Monday.
With their homes largely intact, some of their neighbors consider themselves lucky, too.
“We’re praying it stops where it is,” said Kelly’s neighbor, Jenny Ragland, whose home on a ridge was spared similar damage.
Jacobs and Lang spent the night in Ragland’s home.
Neighbor Toni Denova just bought new furniture, but she’s not worried about it. All she wants is to preserve her family photographs against the rising floodwater.
“I have a boxful of pictures in my garage that I hope get saved. That’s all I really care about,” she said.
May, who fled to an emergency shelter with her six children, has no idea what to expect when she gets home. She’s just trying to help her kids cope.
“My oldest, she just breaks down and cries,” she said. “But I’m there with her to let her know everything’s going to be OK.”