Rescue efforts continued throughout Livingston Parish on Sunday, as the devastation poured southeast from Denham Springs to Walker and Port Vincent, where the Amite River is projected to crest Monday morning.
The extensive flooding — and the way it shifted across the parish as various waterways crested and fell or stalled — made it difficult to maintain shelters and ensure that food, water and other supplies got to the people who needed them, Parish President Layton Ricks said.
Live Oak High School, which aerial photos showed to be inundated and surrounded by a lake of water Saturday, was on the list of locations for a possible shelter Sunday, Ricks said. Meanwhile, some churches that had opened as shelters Saturday had to close because either they or the surrounding roads took on water.
"We're trying to keep enough shelters open, but you know, even when we pull people out to get them to safety, we can't always get them to a shelter, and then we can't always get them food and water," Ricks said, noting that road closures shift along with the ebb and flow of the floodwaters.
The shelters that did open swelled with people, many of whom had spent the night in other makeshift gathering points – a gas station, the Neighborhood Wal-Mart on Vincent Road, a Baptist church on Lockhart in Denham Springs.
After more than two days of rain punished the Baton Rouge area, parish officials across the …
Soldiers with the Louisiana Army National Guard shuttled evacuees in large military trucks, while residents with serious medical issues were airlifted to hospitals or taken down Interstate 12 by high-water truck – the only mode of travel for a roadway that remained closed for most of the day due to flooding.
An overnight shelter at the Suma Community Center, just off I-12 at Satsuma, was nearly full with evacuees, including a Greyhound bus on its way from Baton Rouge to Memphis when I-12 was closed Saturday.
Larry Loveless, 68, and other residents of the La Plantation assisted living facility in southeast Denham Springs were evacuated to the shelter around 3:30 a.m. Sunday, when water lapped at their shins and continued to rise.
Loveless, who uses a wheelchair and carried oxygen tanks with him on the back of the truck that brought him to Satsuma, described a seemingly endless night: loaded onto trucks, dropped at the Wal-Mart, shuttled to a nearby gas station and finally brought to the Suma Center’s theater.
“We haven’t had any sleep. We’ve been up all night,” Loveless said. “Not in all my years, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Two other residents, Octavia Berry and Charles Minton, both 87, said another woman on the truck during one of their trips – whom they didn’t know and wasn’t a fellow resident – had a heart attack. “It was horrible,” said Berry.
“There’s never been that much water before,” said Minton. “I’m from the Denham Springs area, and I’ve never seen it like that.”
Mike and Dianne Moffett, also at the Satsuma shelter, said they’d driven to Baton Rouge earlier in the week from Atlanta to drop their 19-year-old daughter off at LSU, where she’s beginning her freshman year. Rapidly rising water on I-12 left the road gridlocked, though, and both arrived at the shelter Sunday morning after spending a very long night on the freeway with hundreds of others.
About 1,000 stranded motorists were evacuated from Interstate 12 by late Sunday night, many …
“We made some nice friends in the cars ahead of us and behind us,” said Diane Moffett. “There were National Guard and police passing, but no one stopped. We were clearly a low priority.”
Mike Moffett said he was frustrated that officials never updated those stranded on the highway.
“This is our introduction to Louisiana,” Diane Moffett said.
“An adventure for sure,” her husband added.
The water had begun to recede in many pockets of the northwestern part of the parish after the Amite River crested at Denham Springs overnight Saturday. But many neighborhoods that had never flooded before wound up with waist-deep water or worse, leaving residents who had relied on experience to call on emergency crews for help.
One of Ricks' daughters, who lives on the east side of Denham Springs High School, was among the area residents needing rescue. The water there appeared to be as high as the house eaves during a recent flyover, Ricks said, but was likely only 4 or 5 feet high by Sunday afternoon.
"Who would've ever thought it would get that high there?" he said.
Pierre and Barbara Pitard, both 76, said water rose suddenly from two sides around their home in the Lakes at Meadowbrook subdivision in Denham Springs.
“We were getting it from the front and the back, and it rose really, really quickly. We only had a few minutes to get out,” Barbara Pitard said.
The couple fled first to a neighbor’s two-story house, where they had generator power, grilled hamburgers and caught about two hours of sleep – luxury compared to what came next. They also ended up at the Wal-Mart, then the gas station, before arriving at the Suma Community Center.
“I’m not worried in the sense that it’s already under water,” Pierre Pitard said of his house. “I’m worried about how you go about getting it fixed because you’ve got thousands of people now with the exact same problems.”
Ricks, the parish president, also said he worried about what comes next for the recovery of his parish.
“All these rooftops I saw in subdivisions that never flood, these people won’t have flood insurance because they were built to elevations that didn’t require it, and they’ve never seen water before,” Ricks said. “I feel bad for everyone who’s lost, but those are the people I really feel bad for – those who’ve lost and don’t even have insurance.”
Ricks said those concerns would have to be held at bay for at least another few days, though, as the swollen Amite and other waterways wind southward toward Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and flood waters continue to rise in the southern part of the parish, from Port Vincent to Springfield.
Everyone, from the National Guard and first responders to the neighbors down the street, has been pitching in to help, and Ricks said he was incredibly thankful for their service.
"We will make it through this," Ricks said. "People are absolutely stepping up to help and do whatever they can. We're going to make it."