It’s a familiar sight to Louisianians: flooring, furniture and drywall heaped next to streets after a flood.
Those piles grew Wednesday as most people living in flood-stricken areas of South Louisiana were able to get back to their homes and begin the painstaking cleanup process. Other signals emerged of the shift in effort: parish officials began to announce debris pickups, some districts made plans to reopen schools and local governments started lifting curfews.
But farther south, including lower Ascension Parish, water continued to rise in some neighborhoods.
And Gov. John Bel Edwards, touring hard-hit areas by helicopter Wednesday afternoon, said flooding could still strike rural St. James parish and areas further downriver.
The state is shifting to a recovery phase, Edwards said.
“It continues obviously to be historic and unprecedented, but every day, the damage is just greater and greater, but the people are resilient and are doing a great job,” Edwards said.
The scale of the damage is not yet known. Early estimates put the number of damaged homes in the tens of thousands. In two of the hardest hit areas, Central and Denham Springs, officials estimate that as many as 90 percent of the homes may have been damaged by the deluge.
The storm's death toll rose to 12 with the discovery of a dead man in Livingston Parish in woods after the water had receded.
Thousands of people remain in shelters, and Edwards said Thursday that about 70,000 had registered for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But in a sign of improving conditions, the population at the shelter set up at the Celtic Media Center in Baton Rouge had dropped to 900 Wednesday from a high point of about 2,000.
There were other signs that things were settling. The Amite, the source of much of the floodwater, dropped below flood stage at Denham Springs by Wednesday afternoon after shattering records early Sunday morning. Further south, the river wasn’t expected to drop below flood stage until Friday, but it had already fallen from record levels. Similarly, the Comite River, an Amite tributary that caused flooding in parts of East Baton Rouge Parish, had dropped almost 25 feet since cresting Sunday at 34 feet.
Parish leaders also began signaling the end of the emergency phase.
Ascension officials lifted a dusk-to-dawn curfew in parts of the flood-stricken parish. Layton Ricks, president of Livingston Parish, said he hoped to lift the curfew there Thursday. He was also working to establish a network of distribution locations to get aid in the hands of those who need it.
Officials also announced upcoming debris pickup, and some schools in Baton Rouge began to set dates to reopen their doors.
For those returning to their waterlogged homes, though, the long slog had just begun. And with that came a flood of emotions.
Misty Temple lost everything when five feet of water flooded her Central home.
“We’re just in shock,” she said. “A lot of this is just more than we can handle.”
Some Central residents posted signs on their doors, warning looters that they were armed.
Central Mayor Jr. Shelton said he hoped to have trucks picking up debris by the end of this week.
Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry has been carrying around a garbage bag of clothes and working from a trailer in the Walgreens parking lot after his house and city hall flooded.
"I finally shaved yesterday for the first time, and it felt so good," Landry said.
Advocate staff writers Terry Jones, Steve Hardy, David Mitchell, Heidi R. Kinchen, Bryn Stole, Joe Gyan, Jr. and Amy Wold contributed to this report.