Much of south Louisiana shifted into post-flood mode Tuesday, with residents trickling back to areas wrecked by water to begin clean-up and officials complaining of looters and imposing curfews.
Further south, however, the flood water continued to push into new areas forcing new road closures and evacuations, including at the state’s women prison at St. Gabriel, where more than 1,200 inmates were taken to other prisons, a spokesman said.
The confirmed storm death toll rose to nine after the Tuesday discovery of two men who drowned in separate incidents, authorities said. One of the men was Bill Borne, the founder of home health care company Amedisys. Five deaths have been in East Baton Rouge Parish, two in St. Helena Parish, and two in Tangipahoa Parish.
Two other deaths, one in Rapides Parish and another in Tangipahoa may also be flood-related. Late Tuesday, officials could not confirm the circumstances of those two deaths.
The state got a welcome bit of good news: federal authorities expanded their original disaster declaration from four parishes --- mostly around Baton Rouge --- to 20, including areas well to the west of Lafayette.
Governor John Bel Edwards welcomed the declaration, adding that since the flooding began, more than 40,000 people have applied for disaster assistance.
"We're going to work around the clock and do everything humanly possible to render aid," Edwards said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency head Craig Fugate also toured disaster-afflicted areas, vowing to send thousands of workers to Louisiana to aid recovery and help make sure people have housing.
In places all across south Louisiana, officials were still in assessment mode.
Schools in more than 20 parishes remained closed, with some officials saying they were not sure when they would be able to reopen.
In Denham Springs, one of the hardest hit areas along the swollen Amite River, dry land began to emerge after days underwater. At the Juban Crossing shopping center, the water was gone, but it left behind a layer of silty, gray mud.
While the water’s retreat brought relief to some, it also brought reports of looting and other opportunistic crimes.
Law enforcement in East Baton Rouge Parish arrested at least a dozen people for looting, authorities said. In neighboring Livingston Parish, there were another handful.
East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux announced Tuesday that he would enforce a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in the parish. The announcement sparked an angry response from Mayor Kip Holden, who said he objected to the way the issue was being handled.
Officials in Livingston Parish had already announced a curfew, and Ascension Parish law enforcement officers imposed a dusk until dawn curfew.
Further south, the water continued to rise. State corrections officials made the call to evacuate the women’s prison “as a precautionary measure,” when areas nearby saw rising waters.
In Sorrento, near where the Amite River flows into Lake Maurepas, the “Cajun Navy,” a flotilla of volunteers with boats who have been supplementing official rescue efforts around the state, again took the water, helping any who needed to get out.
Some roads remained closed, including portions of Interstate 10. But I-12 reopened for the first time since flooding shut it down Saturday.
Bayou Manchac, Alligator Bayou and Blind River, all of which feed into the Amite River , were still flowing in reverse Tuesday, fed by the massive crest of the river. Crews were dropping Hesco baskets into the Alligator Bayou Tuesday to try to stem the flow.
Officials downriver said they prepared as well as they could, but nothing could have readied them for this year’s unprecedented flood, not even the 1983 floods that wrecked much of the same area.
This year’s flood shattered the records from that year, said State Climatologist Barry Keim.
That benchmark 1983 storm is often referred to as a 100-year flood, Keim said.
This year, some areas received two-day rain totals considered to be greater than a 1,000-year storm, he said.
It’s still unclear why a relatively weak and unnamed tropical disturbance produced so much rain, but one cause of the accumulation was that it was a very slow moving system. In fact, in Baton Rouge there was continuous rainfall for 32 hours over the weekend, he said.
Even with a hurricane, he said, it may rain heavily for awhile as a feeder band moves through, but there are breaks in that rainfall.
“This storm just was relentless,” Keim said.
Advocate staff writers Jim Mustian, Andrea Gallo, Amy Wold, Elizabeth Crisp and David Mitchell contributed to this report.