I12 closure at Airline.jpg

Officials divert traffic from I-12 at Airline Highway on Saturday.

Advocate photo by PHILLIP DEQUEANT

About 1,000 stranded motorists were evacuated from Interstate 12 by late Sunday night, many having spent more than 24 hours without food and water, after historic flooding made parts of the roadway impassable, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

Most of the marooned had spent Saturday night stuck on dry stretches of the interstate, including a Lafayette woman headed to her father's funeral in Slidell, which she missed.

And state officials did not expect to re-open the roadway entirely for another day or so, said State Police Superintendent Col. Michael Edmonson. Vehicles, which are still on the roadway, will have to be moved. Many of the evacuees were taken to Hammond and Baton Rouge shelters, he said.

Also, nearby residents whose homes have flooded have now moved onto the high ground from where most of the motorists were evacuated, he said. 

 

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Throughout the day, those stranded said they were plagued by a lack of water, food and information.

"It is hot and humid and there is no place for anybody to go," said Julie Cobb, who with her husband Jason and sons Nathan, 8 and Charlie, 5 are headed for Destin, Fla. from their home in Spring, Texas.

"People are not prepared for this situation," she said in a telephone interview. "You just don't realize what is going on."

Cobb said helicopters and the Red Cross have tried to get supplies to the marooned, with mixed success.

She said food has been dropped from helicopters, including meals ready to eat, or MREs, but there was no organized distribution.

"Everybody just takes off with it," Cobb said.

A nearby convenience store allowed five people in at a time.

However, shelves cleared quickly.

A church allowed the marooned access to a single bathroom, but the mass of people made access difficult.

The family tried to sleep in their Nissan Murano, and stay as cool as conditions allowed.

"We would just  turn the car on for about 30 minutes, cool down and then turn it off," Cobb said.

Small babies and even nursing mothers are among the stranded.

"Dogs are everywhere that need food," she said. 

By early afternoon there was talk that eastbound I-12, but not westbound, would be open soon.

"It will be mass craziness getting out of here," Cobb said.

Some eastbound traffic was being allowed to proceed to I-55 or continue on I-12 east late Sunday afternoon, said Sgt. Jared Sandifer, a spokesman for State Police.

"The traffic is thinning out as we speak," Sandifer said.

Asked why motorists were complaining about a lack of food and water despite aid efforts he said, "It is such a spread out area."

Another stranded on I-12 earlier was Edna Dugas and her family, who ground to a halt at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, with no food and water from aide workers in the meantime.

What 's worse is that Dugas — whose own home suffered flood damage — was headed to Slidell from Lafayette for her dad's funeral, said Deanna Lamz, Dugas' sister and the wife of Slidell city judge Tim Lamz.

By late Sunday morning State Police were trying to aid the stranded family because one of the passengers has a medical condition, Lamz said.

She said she thought the group was being transported to Hammond.

When motorists can expect relief is unclear.

Pockets of drivers are stranded on islands surrounded by water on Interstate 12 near Albany, Louisiana State Police Major Doug Cain Sunday morning.

High water on the interstate led to I-12 being closed Saturday afternoon. The interstate runs through the Florida parishes from Slidell to Baton Rouge.

About 200 motorists west of Albany were evacuated Saturday night, but the remainder are in areas where the water is too deep to be accessed with rescue vehicles and are inaccessible with boats, he said.

Cain said the motorists have fresh water and efforts are being made to get them food.

Interstate 12 is likely to remain closed for another couple days. 

State Police also reported a fatality in a wreck on Interstate 10 near Grosse Tete. I-10 is open but traffic is down to one lane.

Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, the adjutant general for the Louisiana National Guard, said he was assisting State Police with helicopters, high water vehicles and boats to distribute supplies to the stranded.

Michael Dunlap, photo editor for The Advocate, got stuck on I-12 when he went out on Saturday afternoon to take pictures.

"It was horrific," Dunlap said. "When I got out of my car and walked to the front of the convoy to see what was going on there was water almost overtopping the construction barriers in the median of the interstate," he said.

"Water was just colliding over them in waves," Dunlap said. "It was scary for a lot of folks."

Tangipahoa Parish President Robby Miller said Sunday afternoon state and local officials are coordinating efforts to assist motorists stranded on I-12 near Albany.

C & S Wholesale Grocer of Hammond is also helping as part of efforts to distribute food, water and other supplies to those stranded in Livingston Parish, including via a Blackhawk helicopter.

The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office was also helping motorists stuck on I-12.

Mark Ballard of The Advocate's Capitol News Bureau contributed to this report.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.