Burlin Pinion, 65, said he has lived near the rivers and lakes of Louisiana his whole life, but he has never seen water rise as quickly as it did Saturday night when Tropical Storm Lee lumbered through the state.
“This surprised a lot of people,” said Pinion as he stood in water up to his thighs Sunday afternoon in front of his home in the Warsaw Marina neighborhood in Springfield.
“From midnight to 8 o’clock (in the morning), it just rose so fast. I know how to prepare for floods, but I didn’t expect anything like this,” he said.
The tropical storm, which was downgraded to a tropical depression Sunday night, caused significant flooding in parts of Livingston Parish, forcing at least 150 families from their homes on Sunday, said Mark Benton, parish director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness.
Ten other parishes in south Louisiana experienced some kind of flooding because of Tropical Storm Lee, said Veronica Mosgrove, communications director for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Those parishes are: Acadia, Assumption, Iberia, Lafourche, Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany and Terrebonne.
Assumption, St. Tammany, Terrebonne, Acadia and Iberia experienced minor flooding, she said.
Mosgrove had no new state flooding updates as of 7 p.m. Sunday.
Lee slogged slightly north Sunday, said Gavin Phillips, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Slidell.
The weather system will continue to move slowly as it travels northward, Phillips said.
The downgrade in its status means that all tropical storm watches and warnings have been discontinued.
The system’s center sat west of Baton Rouge about 30 miles north of Interstate 10, around 8 p.m. Sunday, Phillips said.
Phillips said it would move very little between Sunday night and Monday morning.
When it does move, it’s expected to inch along the Interstate 59 corridor to Chattanooga, Tenn., which already has a flood watch in place, Phillips said. I-59 extends from Slidell through Mississippi and up through Birmingham, Ala.
Southeast Louisiana will likely see a few more inches of rain through Sunday night, Phillips said.
Baton Rouge had received about 8 inches of rain as of Sunday night, while about 13 inches fell in New Orleans, Phillips said.
Overall, most of southeast Louisiana averaged between 8 to 12 inches of rainfall through Sunday, Phillips said.
“That’s what tends to happen when you have a slow-moving system — high rainfall,” Phillips said.
The tornado watch over southeast Louisiana will also likely be extended through Monday, Phillips said.
A flash flood warning for southeast Louisiana and south Mississippi is in effect through Monday.
Most of the heavy flooding in Livingston Parish was reported in areas around French Settlement, Killian, Head of Island and Maurepas, Benton said.
Parish officials closed more than 50 roads, but there were no reports of injuries from the storm, Benton said.
Several hundred parish residents were affected by the rising waters, from major flooding in their homes to minor flooding on the streets, Benton said.
Pinion’s home of 35 years took on at least two feet of water, as did most of the nearby homes that had not been raised.
Steven Spell, 34, of Springfield, spent most of Sunday morning checking on his neighbors and helping his mother save whatever she could from the rising water.
“It came up faster than we knew what to do,” Spell said. “In the big storms, we didn’t get as much water as fast. It’s just a disaster.”
The American Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at Walker Freshman School for displaced residents.
Several residents called to inquire about the shelter, Benton said, but no one had arrived at the school as of late Sunday. The shelter will remain open though Monday night, Benton said.
When the water goes down, personnel from the Office of Emergency Preparedness and the Red Cross will venture out into the neighborhoods to assess residents’ needs and assist with cleaning up, Benton said.
JoAnne Moreau, director of the Baton Rouge Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, or MOHSEP, said East Baton Rouge Parish was experiencing no major flooding as of Sunday afternoon.
Moreau said there were a few sewer issues and downed trees, but not much beyond that.
There were no road closures or flooding reports for the parish as of 7 p.m. Sunday, she said.
The Mayor’s Office issued a news release Sunday asking residents to stay indoors to avoid inclement weather.
“Although we have seen the rains slack and the weather improve from yesterday morning, this is just a temporary calm,” Mayor-President Kip Holden said in the release. “Forecasters are predicting that East Baton Rouge Parish could see high wind speeds, periods of heavy rain, and a chance of tornados throughout the day and on into tomorrow.”
As of 8:30 p.m. Sunday, 412 Entergy users in East Baton Rouge and 102 in Livingston were without power, according to Entergy’s website.
For DEMCO, 1,113 residents in East Baton Rouge had no power, compared to only one in Livingston and 288 in East Feliciana, according to DEMCO’s website.
Sheila Pounders, Entergy’s regional customer service manager, said most outages that occurred Sunday would be fixed by Sunday night.
“Unless the weather hampers us from doing that,” Pounders said.
Pounders said falling trees were the main cause of Entergy’s outages.
“We’ve had several trees that have toppled over on lines,” she said.
DEMCO spokesman David Latona also said falling limbs and trees caused most of DEMCO’s outages.
DEMCO hoped to have the outages restored by Sunday night, Latona said.
“We’re going to watch it and see what happens,” Latona said.
During a break in the downpour Sunday afternoon, some Livingston Parish residents tried to save what they could while others took the flooding in stride.
Rickie Woodburn sat on a folding chair in her driveway, her feet underwater as she took a break from putting her possessions out of the reach of the flood.
“We’ve seen it so many times,” she said. “But it’s just that same anxiety and emotional stress that comes with seeing water in your house.”
Residents in Warsaw Marina said there was nothing to do now but wait for the water to recede. Then the hard process of getting back to normal can begin.
“It’s going to be a lot of work,” Pinion said. “But I grew up in the marsh area. I know how to handle this. And it’s worth it to live on the water.”
Robert Stewart contributed to this report.
Depression Lee Information:
The last advisory on Tropical Depression Lee was issued at 4 a.m. by the National Hurricane Center.
Lee has become extratropical over southern Louisiana as it has merged with a frontal zone with cool and dry air coming into the circulation center from the north and west.
The center of Lee at 4 a.m. was located near Latitude 30.2 North and Longitude 90.8 West or 35 miles west-northwest of the New Orleans airport.
Lee is expected to turn towards the northeast into southern Mississippi on Monday and into Alabama on Tuesday. Rain is expected to continue as as Lee interacts with the frontal zone.
Flood and Flash Flood watches and warnings are in effect from coastal Texas into the gulf states and then northeastward into the central Appalichians.