The water was gone, but the streets smelled like a rotten beach.
The faces of urban search-and-rescue workers twisted in revulsion when they piled out of houses in north Baton Rouge after checking each putrid home one-by-one Tuesday to make sure missing people hadn't been trapped inside during four days of record flooding.
"Fire Department!" they yelled, armed with axes as they knocked on doors, hacking away at them so they could search inside, accompanied by police. "Does anyone live there? Are you sure they got out?" the workers asked neighbors, who were the intelligence sources on each block.
Some houses showed water lines about 5 feet high. When workers found no one, they tied a piece of yellow police tape to the doors, marking the spots that are considered "cleared" after the storm.
So began the process Tuesday of accounting for residents in some of the hardest-hit areas of Baton Rouge. Teams of firefighters and police walked house-to-house, sometimes trudging through spots of mud and thigh-deep water, followed by trucks towing boats in case those were needed.
"Watch for snakes!" a resident warned on Fairwoods Drive. People in masks were piling wet clothing and debris outside their ruined houses. Dead worms were scattered all over the streets.
First responders are set to spend the next five to seven days working through a grid of Baton Rouge to check for deceased or trapped residents, officials said at a news conference Tuesday. Baton Rouge Fire Department Chief Ed Smith, Baton Rouge Police Department Chief Carl Dabadie and Mayor-President Kip Holden implored residents not to go sightseeing around areas that flooded, an activity they said is impeding the work of emergency personnel.
There have been at least 11 deaths statewide related to the floods.
Spray-painted "X" marks on houses in New Orleans became one of the most enduring symbols of Hurricane Katrina, as workers coded the dates, number of people found and other information for each dwelling. BRFD spokesman Curt Monte said the way houses in Baton Rouge are tagged will depend on the level of damage each sustained.
Houses with less damage might have caution tape or ribbon tied on a door, while houses that flooded up to the rooftops might have the kind of spray paint markings that people grew accustomed to in the aftermath of Katrina, Monte said.
"This is our way to search our city door by door to make sure we are accountable for our citizens," Smith said. "There will be houses in most areas that will have markings on them; we'll try to minimize these markings to make sure that people know they have been checked. We ask you to work with us on this."
Smith said checking homes in person has become even more necessary because many people with cell phones lost service from AT&T over the weekend and because service remains spotty.
He said houses along Shelley Street and Prescott Road were two of the first areas checked on Monday. Eight teams are working across the parish.
Dabadie said BRPD is fully staffed and answering all calls for service.
Smith said people should use common sense when deciding when to return to homes that flooded. He also said people should not self-deploy boats and run search-and-rescue operations without first consulting law enforcement.
"If you can get there without a lot of water, we want you checking your home," he said, but added that people should not put themselves in harm's way.
No bodies had been discovered in north Baton Rouge during the welfare checks as of Tuesday evening, but the body of one man, Amedisys CEO Bill Borne, was found in the woods in the southern part of East Baton Rouge Parish.
"Ma'am, we're gonna tie a ribbon on your door, that way no rescue teams come by and beat on your door," a fire official told a resident in what became a repeated message to urge people not to rip off the easily-removable yellow tape.
"That's just telling all other teams that we checked y'all out and made sure y'all are O.K."