The floods ravaging south Louisiana are the largest natural disaster the American Red Cross has responded to since Hurricane Sandy ripped up the eastern seaboard in 2012, the president of the relief organization said Thursday.

Seven days after rain and floods started pelting the region, standing floodwaters remained in only a few pockets of East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes, but Ascension continued to suffer roads cut and houses inundated by rising bayous and streams. At least 13 people have died in the flood, and at least 40,000 homes have been damaged.

"You can drive through the affected area and as far as the eye can see, you can see people's belongings on the curb," said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross. "You can see where the water level was. It's really devastating and it's extremely difficult for the residents here."

The comparison to Sandy is telling — the storm hit New Jersey and New York in the fall of 2012, destroying thousands of homes, leaving millions without power and causing more than 100 deaths and more than $60 billion in damage in the United States. 

In Louisiana, the Red Cross is operating several shelters and pledged to stay until people are back on their feet. Across the region, 4,070 victims spent Wednesday night in shelters, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

In some places, officials are taking drastic measures to prevent more flooding.

Ascension and Iberville parish officials decided jointly Thursday to cut a 40-foot break along the top of Alligator Bayou Road to drain away high water in the Bluff Swamp and the Spanish Lake Basin that is threatening homes to the south.

The road acts like a levee, holding water in the basin and nearby Bayou Manchac in the northwest corner of eastern Ascension and western Iberville parishes. The cut will be in Ascension parish. It will be the second time in the past three days that officials have decided to make openings in part of the parish's levee protection system to allow floodwater to escape the overwhelmed system.

As The Advocate's editorial board and residents have called on President Barack Obama to visit the areas coping with disaster, the governor said Thursday he is unconcerned that Obama has not visited yet.

On Thursday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson traveled to Louisiana to meet with Edwards, visit shelters and view flood-affected areas. Federal Emergency Management Agency head Craig Fugate came to Louisiana earlier this week.

Obama is on a family vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts this week. He has not commented publicly on the flooding that has sparked disaster declarations for 20 parishes, nor has he announced plans to travel to Louisiana.

Edwards, a Democrat, said the visits from other federal officials, plus near daily communication with the White House, show the flooding is a priority for the federal government. He said a visit from Obama would require heightened security and road closures and would drain resources as the state still works to respond to the flood.

"Quite frankly, that's not something I want to go through right now," Edwards said. "I would just as soon he wait a week or two."

In East Baton Rouge Parish, water had receded in most places by Thursday except around Hoo Shoo Too Road near the Amite River, Baton Rouge Fire Department spokesman Curt Monte said. As rain slammed the parish Wednesday night, the Fire Department received many reports that two to three feet of water was rising near Scenic Highway and Harding Boulevard, Monte said.

He said the fire department started preparing boats to help, but people began calling back a half hour later to report that the water was subsiding.

A 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew remained in place in East Baton Rouge on Thursday night despite complaints from many business owners, who said they were losing money and unable to pay their workers because they were having to close so early.

At least six people were arrested Wednesday night in Baton Rouge for violating the curfew. All but one were booked on other counts as well; the sole exception told police he was simply trying to walk to a store.

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux sent a letter Thursday to Metro Councilman John Delgado, who had complained about the curfew on Wednesday. Gautreaux repeated that he will lift the curfew when it is safe to do so.

"I realize that the curfew causes inconvenience and hinders opportunities for some, but my number one priority is the preservation of life and property," he wrote. "A curfew is one way to not only secure the safety of residents and first responders, but also curb criminal activity such as looting. Thousands of homes and businesses, some destroyed by floodwaters, are left vulnerable and without power."

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Carey Chauvin said the city-parish — operating with limited workers because many have been affected by the floods — is struggling to meet the demands for inspections, permitting and plan reviews as people start to rebuild. Chauvin said the city-parish will probably hire contractors to help keep up with the workload.

The city-parish's contractor for debris pickup will also start service on Monday, and is holding a hiring event Friday for people interested in the job.

Floodwaters had receded throughout much of Livingston Parish by Thursday afternoon but remained over roads in Maurepas, French Settlement and Port Vincent, said Lori Steele, spokeswoman for the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office.

Calls for rescue also slowed dramatically, she said.

For many Livingston residents and business owners, Thursday was spent lugging ruined furniture and inventory to the curb, gutting drywall and ripping out flooring.

"We're running out of space to put it all," said Hunter Miller, grandson of Al Bye, who co-owns Theater Antiques in Denham Springs.

Relief distribution points opened at several locations in the parish, including Bass Pro and the Satsuma Community Center, offering meals ready to eat, known as MREs, and bottled water, parish officials said.

In Ascension, standing water remained in Galvez, St. Amant, Gonzales, Sorrento and other places.

Further south, in St. James parish, at least eight homes flooded Thursday near Blind River. But parish officials were hoping that the standing water could be gone as soon as Sunday and that no more homes will flood.

St. James parish has not had any evacuations or any shelters open.

Staff Writers David Mitchell, Heidi Kinchen, Joe Gyan and contributor Della Hasselle contributed to this report.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​