Officials are expecting to find that up to 70 percent of the more than 50,000 homes in Livingston Parish will have been damaged by floodwaters that swamped the area since Thursday, with the southern portions of the parish expected to be dealing with floodwaters through Wednesday.
Mark Harrell, the parish's Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness director, said that 4,000 people were still in 25 shelters, but that number is expected to grow as rescues continue and more shelters could open.
"They're pulling out whole subdivisions when they hit it," said Harrell of the rescue efforts. The U.S. Census says there are 50,170 housing units in the parish in 2010 and Harrell estimated 60 percent to 70 percent have flood damage.
Sheriff Jason Ard said in a video that law enforcement and military personnel were still rescuing people from flooded homes, with efforts shifting to the Maurepas and French Settlement areas in southern Livingston Parish, where water was beginning to rise.
"What's good right now is that a lot of the rescues we're doing right now is more set toward evacuation, not as life-threatening as we have been," Ard said, noting that there's heavy boat traffic in floodwaters throughout the parish.
Some of the heaviest damage so far has been in Watson, Albany and Holden, he said.
Waters receded enough by Monday afternoon to allow the opening of some roads for the first time in days, Ard said, with U.S. 190 and other routes open eastbound toward Interstate 55.
Throughout the parish, residents continued to suffer through high water and chaos Monday, even as record flood levels in areas around Walker and Denham Springs began to gradually recede.
Dropping levels on the Amite River at Denham Springs meant the water had headed downriver, jumping its banks in French Settlement and Port Vincent on its way toward Maurepas. Hundreds more homes took on water Sunday night and through the day Monday, adding to the thousands already made homeless by the floods.
Rising waters in the southern half of the parish also caused once-dry shelters to be cut off to traffic and taking on water. U.S. Army National Guard missions to move people gathered at Hebron Baptist Church and at an elementary school ran into trouble in the early morning as even military high water trucks found themselves in water over their headlights.
When an amateur rescue crew in boats picked Jennifer Gonzalez and two of her daughters up from their home in a trailer park on Buddy Ellis Road outside Denham Springs, it was the beginning of a lengthy ordeal: The volunteers dropped her and the two girls at South Fork Elementary school on La. 16, but her boyfriend and two other children never arrived. Frantic efforts to reach them failed, in part because of ongoing cellphone outages. It wasn't until about eight hours later she got word that they were at a makeshift shelter on Satsuma Road.
"I couldn't get answers about where they were because they didn't know anything," she said, while riding in the back of a military transport from the schools to Stine hardware in Walker. "When I found out, I was so happy."
But even Monday evening, she — like many others in the parish — didn't know where she was headed next or how she might reach the rest of her family.
The Rev. J.R. Gordon, 79, said neighbors on La. 610 fled to his home at New Beginnings Christian Church because it's on higher ground before it started taking in water as well Sunday.
In French Settlement, where the Amite River crested Sunday afternoon, 59-year-old Lonnie Wells, said he was planning to ride out the flood, even as he stood in calf-deep water on the road next to the motorboat that's become his main means of transportation.
Wells said water was six feet deep in front of his trailer but only a foot had made it inside so far. He said he intends to stick it out to watch his chickens, rabbits and dogs, some of whom had climbed into the trees to get out of water.
But Doug Murphy, a neighbor driving his truck loaded with family down La. 16 on his way out of town, urged Wells to hitch a ride on one of the National Guard trucks evacuating people from the area.
"Never seen nothing like this, never," said Murphy, 54, who already had about six feet of water in his home by noon Monday. "I got a park with eight trailers in it that went under with no flood in insurance. But hey, we breathing good air so we alive!"
An armada of small motor boats — manned by sheriffs deputies from across the state, soldiers and hundreds of volunteers — continued to pluck people from flood zones across the parish throughout Monday. Along La. 16, those rescued said the amateur rescue crews outnumbered the professional by three or five to one.
Among those who lost a home in the floods was Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks, who said he spotted the damage while running rescue missions with emergency crews Monday.
"It's going to take us quite some time to get through this, but we will get through it," Parish President Layton Ricks said in a video.