Unprecedented Flooding Batters Louisiana; Rescue Efforts Underway
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In the state of Louisiana, people are taking shelter inside churches, in stadiums, in other people's homes, anyplace safe and dry they can find. They're escaping some of the worst flooding in that state's history. More than 20,000 people have been rescued from the rising floodwaters with help from the National Guard and also the U.S. Coast Guard. At least four people have died, one pulled by a diver from a car that was submerged. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been covering these events. She's on the line from Baton Rouge.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So this has been going on for days. And I take it, as people thought maybe it couldn't get worse, that's exactly what happened. It got worse over the weekend.
ELLIOTT: You know, it is unprecedented. Search and rescue teams are still out there trying to find people who are stranded by floodwaters. It started Friday. Some places in Louisiana have more than 2 feet of rain recorded. This is just record breaking...
GREENE: Two feet of rain that actually fell? This is not, like, 2 feet of standing water. This is actually 2 feet of rain coming...
ELLIOTT: No, this is 2 feet within just a few days...
GREENE: My God.
ELLIOTT: ...And the ground just can't take it. It was already saturated. There were these dramatic pictures of the Coast Guard in helicopters, dropping baskets down to pull people from rooftops. And the rooftops just look like little islands floating in water. That was in and around the Baton Rouge area. All throughout south Louisiana, you have places where canals, creeks, lakes, rivers - you name it - are overtopping their banks. It's widespread from right around the Louisiana-Mississippi state line, stretching over toward the Texas border.
GREENE: Huge swaths.
ELLIOTT: By Sunday - yeah. By Sunday, you said 20,000 people have been plucked from their homes either by these high-water vehicles that officials have, boats, helicopters. You know, just average people are putting their boats in the streets to go and rescue their neighbors. The streets are not easy to pass. Sections of both I-12 and I-10 are closed due to this flooding - countless state roads and county roads and bridges. It's very difficult to navigate.
Governor John Bel Edwards has said some people have even had to be rescued from rushing floodwaters in their cars and clinging to trees. He's warning folks, too, that just because the sun was back out yesterday and is expected to be shining today, the crisis is not over.
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GOV JOHN BEL EDWARDS: What we know is we have record levels of flooding along our rivers and creeks. And because these are record floods, we don't know how wide the water is going to get in those areas. This is unprecedented, so we don't have records that we can go back and see who all's going to be impacted.
GREENE: Well, Debbie, I know you've been braving some of these roads and getting around. What exactly have you seen as you've been traveling this the region?
ELLIOTT: Well, I came in from the east, and I went to Tangipahoa Parish by some back roads. That's actually where the governor is from. You could see piles of debris left behind where the floodwaters had receded. At one point, I even saw what I would call a fifth wheel, like, a little travel trailer that looked like it had floated away from where it belonged. And it was just sort of hanging sideways on the side of the road.
In Amite, a small town, I noticed a big propane tank washed up against a bridge railing. It had come from this store nearby, Brandon's. It's a family-owned appliance store that's right along the Tangipahoa River. Brandon Voight owns the store with his 71-year-old grandfather. They were working. They had a foot and a half of water in their store, in their warehouse and in the family home. They were trying to dry things out.
Enough water had swept through to push these giant propane tanks over a 6 foot fence and into the woods across the highway. Voight told me they were just really caught off guard when the water started rising on Friday.
BRANDON VOIGHT: And then as the day went on, later on in the evening, it was - we realized it wouldn't - it was coming in too fast. But we still never in a million years thought it would get in the store or especially my grandma and grandpa's house back there on that hill. It got 10 inches of water in it, you know? You'd never - looking at it from the road, you'd say, impossible.
ELLIOTT: You had to look up to see that house. That's what's so remarkable about this. It's reaching places that traditionally have not been affected by the seasonal high water in Louisiana. You know, we think of the spring floods along the Mississippi River or floods maybe associated with hurricanes this time of year but nothing like this. This is different.
GREENE: Nothing like anything that was ever - they were ever prepared for. This family, the Voights, they - I mean, their home, their business, their warehouse, all inundated by water. What is next for them, now?
ELLIOTT: Well, they're cleaning up. The grandparents were staying in a hotel. And most of the hotels in and around Baton Rouge are filled with flood victims. But a lot of people, as you mentioned earlier, are staying with friends, anywhere they can find a dry place. Others are in shelters. Louisiana officials say more than 10,000 people are sleeping in shelters.
I met a woman in Tangipahoa Parish, Helen Evans (ph), who was settling in for the evening. She described being rescued by boat from her house, where she said the water was waist-deep inside.
HELEN EVANS: Well, the water came in so fast, we - it was a surprise to us, so, hey. And it just got all in the house, all in the cars, all in the yard.
ELLIOTT: She said - I asked her what she was thinking as the water was coming in. She said, you know, I didn't even have time to think or even grab anything before I headed out and grabbed that boat to safety.
GREENE: Just astonishing, and it sounds like even though the sun is up, as the governor said, things could still get worse. We'll be thinking of the people of Louisiana. And, Debbie Elliott, thanks so much. We appreciate it this morning.
ELLIOTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.