A relentless onslaught of rain drove down on the Baton Rouge area Friday, driving people from flooded homes, swamping streets and even taking the life of a man who drowned in a ditch near his house on Plank Road.
The worst flooding was widespread, stretching from the north parts of East Baton Rouge Parish to the Denham Springs area to Tangipahoa Parish. As much as a foot of rain was dumped in some places.
The quickly rising waters forced several hundred people out of their homes Friday, with many having to be rescued by emergency personnel.
A woman who called 911 Friday morning had tried to help 68-year-old William Mayfield escape the flooding outside his house between Zachary and Baker, but Mayfield slipped and fell into a large ditch and did not come back up, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, spokeswoman for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.
Zachary Police Chief David McDavid said the rainfall had caused some of the worst flooding he had seen since he started living there in 1969.
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“What we’re worried about now are these canals and the water rising and causing more flooding if this rain doesn’t let up,” McDavid said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency for the entire state because of the severe weather. The areas inundated by the rain include several parishes -- such as Tangipahoa and Livingston -- that were hit hard in March, when rain and rising rivers flooded homes across Louisiana.
The Louisiana National Guard aided rescue efforts in Tangipahoa Parish, where President Robby Miller said 140 people had been rescued and more than a dozen state highways and 62 parish roads were impassable due to high water.
In Livingston Parish, the water pushed up caskets in St. Mark’s Cemetery in Walker. And in St. Helena Parish, Greensburg was an island unto itself, cut off from the world by flooded highways.
Chief of Detectives Joe Chaney with the St. Helena Parish Sheriff's office said he rode out in a Humvee to help rescue residents trapped in the flood. At least one had to be taken to a hospital for unspecified injuries, he said.
Shelters were established throughout much of the metro region, though Baker’s had to be moved from City Hall to the Baker Civic Club on Friday afternoon, after officials learned that a woman who had booked the municipal facility for her wedding didn’t want to cancel, despite the weather.
Taneka Stewart, her sister, a friend and their eight children were forced to leave everything behind and take shelter at Baker City Hall after the city’s firefighters rescued them by boat from her flooded home on Don Avenue on Friday morning.
Stewart’s sister and friend had come over to her home that morning with their children after schools were closed.
Stewart, who had just moved into the rental three weeks ago, said her landlord never mentioned anything about the area being prone to flooding.
“All the water was just seeping in from underneath the front door,” she recalled. “I’m going to have to find another place to live because I’m not going through this every time it rains like this.”
About 60 miles away in the rural village of Tangipahoa, Earl Walton smiled as he stood in the rain about a block from his flooded home. His house was under water, but he was able to get out safely and even move his truck to dry land.
One man who lived nearby said he was able to let his dogs out, and a few moved their vehicles, though most said they just escaped as quickly as possible and weren’t sure what they would encounter when they are able to return home.
Tangipahoa Alderwoman Sheila Martin was on scene and said she expected some people sheltering at Kentwood High School would need to stay there overnight. Rescue operations had reached a standstill by early afternoon, but authorities were trying to account for elderly residents and make sure young children were being properly cared for.
“It’s a blessing to stand here and say that we haven’t had any fatalities,” Martin said. “Everyone is safe. They may be wet, and they may be uncomfortable, but (they are) safe.”
Miller, the Tangipahoa Parish president, urged residents to voluntarily evacuate areas that flooded during a similar rain event in March.
“The National Weather Service forecast suggests this rain event will be equal to or worse than the March flood,” Miller said Friday. “We urge those who live along the river and who can safely evacuate to higher ground to do so now.”
Miller said he expects the southern part of the parish to fare about the same as it did in the spring, but the northern half could see two to three times the destruction.
Torrential rains have caused flooding across the Baton Rouge area.
The National Weather Service predicted Friday that the Comite River will crest at Joor Road overnight Saturday around 32 feet – 1½ feet higher than the record set in 1953 and more than 2 feet higher than in 1983, when backwater flooding damaged thousands of homes and caused millions of dollars in damage in East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes.
The Amite River was expected to crest at Denham Springs overnight Sunday around 42.5 feet, while the Tickfaw River at Holden was projected to reach 22 feet. Both crests would trump records set in 1983.
The Tickfaw River already had beat one record Friday, hitting 13.33 feet at Liverpool. The river crested there at 13.3 feet in 1983, according to NWS. The river was expected to continue to rise to 13.5 feet Friday afternoon before receding.
East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden urged residents to continue to monitor local weather and news stations and to check their supply of water, canned goods and medicines.
“With this ongoing weather situation, please use the buddy system and check on family, neighbors and the elderly as they may experience problems from this weather system during this duration,” Holden said.
The National Weather Service has extended a flash flood warning for Baton Rouge and the surr…
While some people needed help leaving flooded neighborhoods, others were able to leave on their own.
Andrew Simar, 25, of Hooper Road in Central, was getting gas in his car around 11 a.m. after just barely getting out of his flooded home with his wife and 3-year-old son.
The couple started packing Friday morning after Simar’s wife returned home from LSU because of cancelled classes and the news reported the possibility of flash flooding.
Their preparations got cut short when Simar saw just how quickly the water was rising.
“Water rose into the house within 30 minutes,” he said. “My car had water in it.”
Luckily, his wife’s car had more elevation and by following behind a large truck making a wake in the road, they were able to escape. However, many of his neighbors’ homes are lower in elevation, he said, and they likely were trapped.
“Virtually every road now in the city has some kind of water problem,” Central Mayor Jr. Shelton said. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Shannon Franklin and her mother, Tracy, said they had been living in their home on Burgess Street in Baker less than a year before Friday’s flood.
“We had tried to leave the house in our cars earlier in the morning when we first started seeing the water rise in the yard, but they had already blocked off the streets,” Franklin said. “We really don’t know what we’re going to do now. We don’t have any transportation. No other family. Nothing.”
The BREC North Sherwood Forest Community Park acted as a transitional shelter for residents in the Central area Friday, hosting people in need of a place to stay overnight. The Red Cross is expected to arrive and provide aid there.
Flash flooding devastated the Baton Rouge area over the weekend.
Kimali Adomitis tried to fight water seeping into her Greenwell Springs house for hours Friday morning before realizing it was too late. There were 10 inches of water in her home by the time some Good Samaritans came by offering to rescue her and her family, including two dogs.
The 51-year-old sat in the temporary shelter Friday surrounded by the trash bags she'd hastily packed from her home, which had recently undergone a $42,000 renovation, she said. Its wood floors are buckled now.
"We're in shock, I guess," said Adomitis.
Nekeshia Barrett passed the time with her family at the BREC center by watching a movie, after having "lost everything," she said.
The 36-year-old said she has no idea where she'll live to continue to raise her children, including a daughter in her senior year of high school.
"What are we gonna do?" she said. "I don't even have a vehicle."
Sitting nearby, her sister Bobbie Barrett, 34, said she felt depleted. Both live in Central.
"I want to cry," she said.
Several officials said they held out hope that recovery would be aided by outgoing winds and lower levels in Lake Pontchartrain.
“I just pray the predictions go down,” Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa said of the rainfall.
Pumps already had been running in Ascension, where officials were anticipating the record crests.
More than 10 inches of rain had fallen since Thursday afternoon, leading to flash flooding across the parish, particularly on the west bank. Officials expected another 2 to 3 inches of rainfall per hour over the next 24 hours, said Rick Webre, executive director of the Ascension’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Fifteen to 20 houses in Donaldsonville, in the Catalpa Street area, had water in them, Matassa said after an afternoon meeting with other officials at the parish emergency preparedness office.
Ascension and Livingston parish officials closed all waterways there, including the Amite River and Diversion Canal, to recreational traffic beginning 6 p.m. Friday, until further notice, because of the high water levels and floating debris.
In addition, Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes instituted dusk-to-dawn curfews for everyone except emergency personnel.
In Livingston Parish, President Layton Ricks said calls had come in early from Watson and Denham Springs, but by afternoon, fire chiefs across the parish were asking for more sand and bags to distribute.
About 50 people were shoveling sand into bags and onto their truck beds just before noon Friday outside the Denham Springs Fire Department. Other free sand bag locations popped up as well, including at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
Parts of Denham Springs were flooded with several streets closed to traffic. The city’s only fully open north-south artery was Hatchell Lane, Mayor Gerard Landry said.
“We’ve got water in places we’ve never had it,” Landry said Friday morning.
Jason Drive, a residential street, was completely submerged in parts, with water rising a couple feet or so – deep enough that Marshal Jerry Denton, of Livingston Parish Ward II, thought better of driving his pickup through the murky water.
“There’s probably no place in the city not touched by this,” Denton said.