BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Jessica May escaped New Orleans days before Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and made a new life in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. All was going well until one month ago, when her home went up in flames, she said.
After the fire, she and her partner, Denard Singleton, moved with their six kids, ages 10 to 4, into Singleton’s parents’ home in Denham Springs
Then, on August 13, she had to flee rising waters once again — this time, from the Amite River.
May and her family were among tens of thousands of people forced from their homes this weekend in the state’s historic and deadly flood.
More than 20 inches of rain have fallen in and around Baton Rouge since last week, and more is on the way, forecasters said. Scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected to continue through the week. The National Weather Service posted flood warnings through Tuesday afternoon.
The disaster is blamed for at least nine deaths. By CNN’s count, based on contact with officials in affected parishes, six deaths were confirmed in East Baton Rouge Parish, two in St. Helena Parish and one in Tangipahoa Parish.
The U.S. Coast Guard and other first responders rescued more than 20,000 people over the weekend. Civilians helped out in some cases. In one remarkable example captured on video, David Phung pulled a woman and her dog from her car after it had plunged underwater.
May and her family were among those rescued. As they made their way up Airline Avenue, bracing against rushing floodwater, they were rescued by boat and later transported by first responders in a truck.
They arrived at a shelter in Baton Rouge.
“We had to get to higher ground,” she said. “We just left.”
Rescue by helicopter
The Coast Guard said it had rescued more than 118 people and assisted more than 766 in Baton Rouge on Sunday.
A team led by Coast Guard helicopter pilot Lt. Mike Hennebery picked up two people from the second-story porch of a Baton Rouge house.
The chopper dropped a swimmer down to help reel the two up, while Hennebery kept the aircraft hovering about 100 feet above the ground despite low clouds and wind blowing obstacles into nearby trees, he said.
The disaster forced the closure of schools in East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St. James and Tangipahoa parishes as well as Louisiana State University.
On Sunday, President Barack Obama granted Edwards’ request for an emergency declaration to assist in response and recovery efforts. So far, the governor has deployed the Louisiana National Guard, which mobilized 1,700 soldiers to assist in search and rescue efforts. Military police are assisting local law enforcement with security.
The governor said he expects to have close to 30 parishes declared disasters — nearly half of the state’s 64 parishes.
“We’re going to have standing water all over south Louisiana,” Edwards told CNN. “We’re going to have more than our share of mosquitoes. And with the Zika threat, we need assistance to spray for mosquitoes and for mosquito control and abatement. That is made available to us as a result of the declaration.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Ben Beard said experts will be monitoring the situation, but generally, the agency is not concerned about floods triggering the spread of the Zika virus. Mosquitoes that transmit diseases are killed by the same rains that cause the flooding, experts say. Large rain events can actually reduce the number of disease-transmitting mosquitoes.
Details on flooding deaths
The Louisiana Department of Health told CNN that there had been a flood-related death in Tangipahoa Parish.
Six people are confirmed dead in East Baton Rogue Parish, JoAnne Moreau with the East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said. A woman’s body was found inside a flooded vehicle at North Hampton. She was seen Saturday night attempting to turn around in high water when her vehicle was swept away, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office said.
On Friday, a 68-year-old man drowned after slipping and falling in floodwaters.
Two people died in St. Helena Parish, Lisa Ballard with the sheriff’s office said.
The body of an unidentified 30-year-old woman was found Saturday afternoon after the vehicle she was traveling in with her husband and mother was swept away. Her mother and husband survived.
Another man, Samuel Muse, 54, of Greensburg died Friday after floodwaters swept his vehicle off the road, CNN affiliate WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge reported.
‘We’re praying it stops where it is’
Neighbors Brad Jacobs and Erik Lang woke up Monday to survey the mess caused by floodwaters surrounding their homes.
Unlike thousands of other south Louisianans, the flooding hadn’t displaced them.
“I am lucky,” Lang said. “Super lucky. Feeling blessed.”
Shoes, children’s toys and household items floated through knee-deep water outside his home.
With their homes largely intact, some of their neighbors consider themselves lucky, too.
“We’re praying it stops where it is,” said Kelly’s neighbor, Jenny Ragland, whose home on a ridge was spared similar damage.
Jacobs and Lang spent the night in Ragland’s home.
Neighbor Toni Denova just bought new furniture, but she’s not worried about it. All she wants is to preserve her family photographs against the rising floodwater.
“I have a boxful of pictures in my garage that I hope get saved. That’s all I really care about,” she said.