As rescuers spent much of early Sunday pulling southeastern Tangipahoa Parish residents from flooded areas by boat and high-water vehicles, the swollen Amite River didn’t rise as high as forecasters feared in Central and Denham Springs, sparing homes and dropping projections farther downstream where the river is expected to crest Monday.
Four days after the slow-moving but powerful, soaking storm raked across southeast Louisiana, the effects from all that rainfall continued to play out on Mother Nature’s own, variable and contradictory timetable.
East of Ponchatoula where the Tangipahoa River had crested Saturday and was dropping late Sunday morning, Ashley Brown, 32, waded through water to get back to her flooded home on Katina Lane and came out later with a few possessions for her and her son, Grayson, 8, along with six dozens eggs from their chickens, who survived the flood.
Brown, who is staying with family in St. Rose, said 6 feet of water flowed into her home, 3 inches more than during Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
“But that was a hurricane. This is unbelievable. I would have never thought it,” Brown said.
In seven north Louisiana parishes, the federal government declared a major disaster Sunday, opening access to federal disaster assistance.
Mike Steele, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said assessment teams are working to get into flooded areas in southeast Louisiana to clear the way for federal aid to those parishes as well.
Meanwhile, while flooded Interstate 12 in St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes was reopened early Sunday, area officials braced for more water Monday.
Schools will be closed Monday in Ascension, Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes, authorities said.
Livingston Parish authorities called for a curfew from about 7 p.m. Sunday until dawn Monday in the worst flooded areas, officials said. State highway officials also closed a key bridge Sunday over the Blood River in Springfield due to rising water and residents were warned to evacuate to avoid being trapped.
Though the Amite River crested 2 feet below projections in Central and Denham Springs, forecasters expect the river to hit major flood stage farther south at its confluence with Bayou Manchac and Port Vincent, where water is projected to crest Monday evening.
Officials in Ascension and Livingston parishes, which share the Amite as their border, said they still expect flooding, but the effects won’t be as harsh.
Kyle Gautreau, communications director for Ascension Parish, said shortly before noon Sunday that the 1-foot drop in the Amite’s crest at Port Vincent “makes a difference.”
“The likelihood for widespread flooding in the parish is lessened,” he said.
In Ascension Parish, residents north of La. 42 and east of La. 431 are at a high risk of flooding, said Rick Webre, the parish’s director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness.
In a few more days, the Amite will crest downstream in French Settlement and Maurepas in Livingston Parish, said Jeff Graschel, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell.
Mark Harrell, director of Livingston Parish’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, said flooding in Port Vincent, even with the revised projections, should spell trouble for low-lying areas and could mean significant problems around French Settlement, where water — which was rising fast Sunday — is expected to crest mid-week.
“We’re hoping and praying that it doesn’t reach that level,” Harrell said.
In Tangipahoa, where the crest has passed, rescue workers were taking boats to subdivisions and getting people out as emergency calls rose quickly early Sunday, authorities said.
Staff Sgt. Ruben Mullins, with the U.S. Army National Guard 843rd Horizontal Engineer Company out of Franklinton, said that reduced resources for residents who remained in flooded areas is likely playing a role in the increase in calls.
Entergy had cut power to an area east of Ponchatoula between Brown Road and La. 445 Saturday night as a precaution because of the flooding, said Braville LeBlanc, assistant Ponchatoula fire chief.
LeBlanc said firefighters and other emergency workers Saturday could see lights on in homes that were already evacuated.
“It was a hazard,” he said.
LeBlanc said one evacuated house in the Twin Lakes neighborhood on Lake Maurepas Road caught fire and firefighters, who were two miles away, had a hard time getting to it through the flooded streets. One explosion was reported from the home, possibly from a propane tank.
Officials estimate 500 to 800 homes are flooded. The quickrising water also flooded a Ponchatoula Volunteer Fire Department fire station in eastern Ponchatoula Saturday, forcing firefighters to withdraw to their central station Saturday evening.
About 2,700 people have been rescued in Tangipahoa Parish since the flooding began, including 418 people removed Saturday night from the Bedico area, east of Ponchatoula, heading toward the St. Tammany line, Tangipahoa Parish homeland security officials said.
Those efforts continued through Sunday. Large, green military trucks passed down La. 22 into the flood zone with jet boats in the rear to make high-water rescues on Watters Road and along the Tangipahoa River.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent up a helicopter from the Hammond airport late Sunday afternoon over an area south of I-12 from Robert to Bedico to look for residents who may need help and have not been able to contact authorities, Chief Leblanc said.
Meanwhile, the Husser Fire Department near Loranger and the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office used drones for the same purpose, said Dawson Primes, director of the parish’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
The Army National Guard, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office and other agencies and volunteers made a makeshift staging area Sunday for rescue missions off La. 22 east of Ponchatoula.
Residents also were finding ways to check on homes after escaping earlier.
Brook Norred, 32, who lives down Poche Road, stood in the middle of the flooded and closed La. 22 with her parents and others a few minutes after her brother, Dallas Daigle, 22, returned from a trip to their parents’ home also on Poche Road, riding in a flat boat.
Daigle let Norred’s daughter, Mercy, 2, who was in a bathing suit, play in a flat boat docked against a stretch of La. 22 that just had a shallow covering of water. It was a moment of fun for the youngster as the family has been getting “stir crazy” in their hotel.
Daigle didn’t waste time delivering the bad news about their parents’ home.
“It’s inundated,” Daigle said.
Norred said her mobile home on Poche, while surrounded by water, is fine but authorities told her mother that flooding may remain until Thursday.
“We’re just going to stay in the hotel until we can get out,” Norred said.
Sherri Knight, 27, and her sister-in-law, Kayla Jamieson, 25, caught a ride Sunday on a Sheriff’s Office high-water vehicle to North Thibodeaux Road.
Knight, who is staying with Jamieson in Ponchatoula, said she was going back to her home to get what she could for her three children.
Knight said she lost everything. She is not insured. She and Jamieson don’t know what else could have been done to stop the flooding caused by Mother Nature.
“Somebody pissed her off,” Jamieson said.
“Pretty much,” she said.
Once the truck reached North Thibodeaux Road, near Delatte’s Country Market — where Jamieson and her husband had picked up Knight and her children early Saturday to escape the rising water — Knight and Jamieson climbed down from the truck and began wading through high water toward Knight’s duplex.
Later Sunday afternoon, Knight returned with some clothes for her children, two children’s bikes and a “Good Dinosaur” cart, having ferried them out in her landlord’s flat boat.
“Something for the kids to do,” Knight said as her husband, Samuel, strapped the boat to his pickup truck.
While floodwaters are receding in some areas, officials are recommending that people don’t return to check on damaged property until parish President Robby Miller says it is safe.
*This story was edited after publication to correct the amount of flooding that previously hit a home near Ponchatoula.