The drenching weather system that sat over Acadiana for three days flooded roads, pushed water into homes and spawned a tornado that ripped through Breaux Bridge early Thursday and damaged more than 30 homes and businesses along its path.
The flooding and tornados prompted Gov. Bobby Jindal to declare a statewide state of emergency Thursday for some of the affected parishes to clear the way for state assistance.
Rain totals for the Acadiana region from Tuesday through Thursday ranged from 7 inches to 12 inches, according to figures from the National Weather Service.
Damage assessments were not yet complete, but floodwaters rose throughout Acadiana, particularly to the west of Lafayette in Acadia Parish, where water flooded homes in Crowley, Church Point and surrounding rural areas.
“About 8 o’clock I woke up and there was water in my house,” said Ashley Trahan, whose home was one of several that took on water in the Shady Oaks subdivision in Crowley.
Floodwaters were pushing hard against her front and back doors, she said, and someone yelled to stay put because help was on the way.
Trahan said she kicked out the screen of her bedroom window and rescuers in a boat pulled her and her three children to safety.
She still seemed a bit shaken Thursday afternoon when telling of the rescue on dry ground at her sister’s house on the next street over.
Most of the water had receded from homes in Crowley by Thursday afternoon, but several roads were still covered.
Nearby on the outskirts of Church Point, Lisa Marks kept vigil on the porch of her home along La. 95, where the water had been slowly rising to surround the house as rains pounded the area Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.
“I slept for about one hour, and I’ve been monitoring it,” Marks said.
Water was still about a foot or two below the top of the porch, but Marks said she feared it might keep rising as surrounding areas start draining.
Along with the flooding, Thursday morning’s storms spawned scattered reports of tornadoes, and some residents received an unwelcome wake-up call from what the National Weather Service confirmed was a tornado with a path about 150 feet wide and 3 miles long.
From the damage left behind, it did not appear that the tornado was on the ground for the entire time.
The St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office reported damage to about 30 homes and businesses that ranged from minor to severe — destroyed sheds, roof damage, downed trees.
“Everything just blew up,” said Clint Guidry, who on Thursday afternoon was cleaning up the debris left behind at his girlfriend’s home on 11th Street in Breaux Bridge.
The wind tore the roof off of her garage, knocked down a shed and destroyed the pool deck.
Guidry said the storm blew through just before 6 a.m.
“In 20 seconds, it was over,” he said.
Tina Lewis, who lives across the street, said she woke up to “this loud noise and house just started shaking.”
The storm hoisted her patio roof and tossed it over her house and into a neighbor’s yard, she said.
The rising floodwaters overnight and into morning on Thursday also caught some area motorists off guard.
The St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office reported that deputies rescued people in eight vehicles from midnight to 9 a.m. Thursday because drivers didn’t gauge how high the water was and stalled their vehicles.
“They tried to make it, but they didn’t make it,” St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Capt. Megan Vizena said.
In Lafayette Parish, deputies had to retrieve a stranded driver on Louveteau Road off North University Avenue between 5 and 6 a.m., Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman Kip Judice said.
Lake Charles National Weather Service forecaster Todd Mogged said the city of Lafayette received almost 8 inches of rain from Tuesday to 3 p.m. Thursday.
Other three-day rain totals, according to the weather service: Abbeville, 7.12 inches; Bunkie, 8.85 inches; Crowley 9.35 inches; Eunice, 12.25 inches; Jennings, 9.14 inches.
The system that hit Thursday “was like a train from south to north ,” Mogged said. “It rained and rained.”
Mogged said the rain would probably return this weekend, but with less fury.
Even so, some emergency officials are keeping a wary eye on water that might continue rising as the landscape drains.
Liz Hill, emergency preparedness director for hard-hit Evangeline Parish, said Bayou Nezpique and Bayou Cocodrie were cresting Thursday, worrying officials.
Hill said water got high enough in rural Evangeline to enter homes, and Mamou Elementary School is flooded.
Evangeline Parish schools will be closed Friday due to water on the roads, she said.
“The roads are flooded. The buses can’t get through, especially in the rural areas,” Hill said.
School officials in other drenched parishes on Thursday weighed whether to resume classes Friday.
Officials said schools will be open Friday in the parishes of Lafayette, Iberia, St. Mary and St. Martin.
The storm also proved troublesome to East Baton Rouge Parish and surrounding suburban parishes, but brought less rain and caused less damage
Although Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport received more than two inches of rain overnight Wednesday and Thursday, the rainfall overall was bit less than earlier predictions of an additional 2 to 4 inches for the region after doses of up to 7 inches Wednesday, said Christopher Bannan, meteorologist for the National Weather Service forecast office in Slidell.
He said the storm front stalled in Lafayette and Eunice on Wednesday night and was robbed of some of its moisture by rains along the coast of Louisiana.
In Livingston Parish, officials in high-water vehicles helped people whose vehicles stalled in high water and in a few cases where homes were threatened by flash flooding,
Mark Harrell, director of the Livingston Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, said emergency personnel handled 30 to 35 of those cases.
He said a boat was used in one instance to pick up people stranded in a house on Horseshoe Road east of the Tickfaw River.
In addition to the tornado in Breaux Bridge, the moving front spawned weak, early morning tornadoes in Plaquemine in West Baton Rouge Parish at 7:35 a.m. and possibly a third northeast of Franklinton in Washington Parish about 10:39 a.m. Thursday, Bannan said.
The Plaquemine tornado appeared to have caused minor damage, primarily to a tin roof, officials said.
According to the National Weather Service, many rivers in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and other Florida Parishes remained above flood stage by Thursday evening, including the Comite near Joor Road, the Amite at Denham Springs, the Tickfaw at Holden, the Tangipahoa at Robert and Tchefuncte near Covington. Others in flood stage include the Natalbany, Bogue Chitto, Pearl and Bogue Falaya.
Most rivers were expected to crest at the locations in flood stage Thursday — with just with minor flooding mostly — between midnight and 5 p.m. Friday.
Based on the information he has received, Harrell said he doesn’t expect serious backwater flooding to follow the flash flooding of Wednesday and Thursday.
Advocate reporters David Mitchell, Bob Anderson and Bret McCormick contributed to this report.