NEW: Fourth death confirmed after body retrieved from floodwaters
Stories of bravery, heroism emerge from search and rescue efforts
Tom Kelly of Prairieville, Louisiana, has one wish for Monday: To wake up in his own bed and put his feet on dry ground.
As he sat on his neighbor’s porch Sunday afternoon, watching floodwater from Bayou Manchac creep above his patio, he knew it was unlikely.
“It’s epic,” Kelly said of historic flooding that swept across southeastern Louisiana over the weekend. “It’s as high as I’ve ever seen it.”
Shoes, children’s toys and household items floated through knee-deep water outside his home.
With their homes largely intact they know they’re the lucky ones.
“We’re praying it stops where it is,” said Kelly’s neighbor, Jenny Ragland, whose home on a ridge was spared similar damage.
Flooding in Louisiana over the weekend forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, including more than 7,000 who had to be rescued, and left at least three dead, Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference Sunday.
Police later confirmed that a woman’s body had been retrieved from inside a flooded vehicle at North Hampton, raising the death toll to four.
According to witnesses, the woman 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. The woman’s name will be released after her family has been informed.
Though the storms that caused the flooding had largely moved on by Sunday afternoon, flood warnings remained in effect around Livingston Parish. Rivers such as the Comite near East Baton Rouge and the Tickfaw near Livingston were expected to keep rising through Monday morning, causing more backwater flooding from rivers and bayous like the surge that impacted Prairieville.
Kelly and others planned to spend the night in Ragland’s home. Beyond that, they’re not sure what they’ll do.
Another neighbor, Brad Jacobs, hopped in a canoe and paddled across the road to his home to grab fresh clothes. Ankle-deep water filled his home; he hopes an insurance payout will help replace the floors.
Resident Toni Denova just bought new furniture for her home but that’s not what worried her. All she wanted was to preserve her family photographs against the rising floodwater.
“I have a box full of pictures in my garage that I hope get saved. That’s all I really care about,” Denova told CNN.
‘It’s only going to get worse
More than 24 inches of rain have fallen since Wednesday in Livingston, near Baton Rouge, making the disaster an extremely rare weather event, according to the National Weather Service. The statistical chance of such flooding occurring in any given year is 1%, the weather service said.
On Sunday night, President Obama granted Edward’s request for 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. Military police are assisting local law enforcement with security.
Private citizens also contributed to search and rescue efforts.
On Sunday in the town of Galvez-Lake near the Amite River, a frantic Christy Bourgeois and her husband Tom prepared a fan boat to assist a nearby flooded home.
“The last I heard my sister was there and it was on fire,” she said.
Nearby, victims were salvaging toys, clothes and other belongings from their flooded homes. Down Highway 431, desperate families gathered at a gas station, pickup trucks loaded with belongings, waiting for water in their homes to recede.
How to help Louisiana flood victims
Not far away, Jeremy Best said he and Henri Dufrane brought their small boat from nearby Wallace to help people escape their flooded houses.
Best said the water is still rising.
“It’s coming up fast, man,” said Best, who was wearing little more than shorts and a pair of boat shoes. “And it’s only going to get worse.”
Elsewhere, a rescue caught on video showed three men in a boat pulling a woman out of her submerged car as it filled with water. They even managed to save her dog.
Communities band together
The dead include an unidentified 30-year-old woman whose body was recovered Saturday afternoon in St. Helena Parish, police said. She was traveling with her husband and mother when their vehicle was swept away by the flood. Her mother and husband were rescued.
Another victim, Samuel Muse, 54, of Greensburg, died Friday after he tried to drive through high water and floodwaters swept his vehicle off the road, CNN affiliate WAFB reported.
Also Friday, a 68-year-old man drowned when he slipped and fell in flood waters in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Ray Cutrer told CNN that the flood seemed to come out of nowhere. His daughter, who lived next door, thought they might get a bit of water in the house but didn’t fear a deluge.
“Our guard was down,” he said. “And then it was a matter of just watching the water continually rise.”
By midnight Friday they were storing furniture and valuables in the attic and carrying what they could over the back property line as water filled the road.
When they returned on Saturday, Cutrer’s house had escaped damage but his daughter’s was devastated. She and her husband will live with him and his wife until repairs are done, he said.
Another washed-out neighbor is staying with Cutrer’s brother.
He made a promise to help others when he found his house safe, he said.
“I said, ‘Lord, I will be here to help the ones who did,’ and I am. I will be right here. We’ll help them every way that we can,” he said. “That is the way we can give back to this community.”
CNN’s Keith Allen and Kevin Conlon contributed to this story.