BATON ROUGE, La. — 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.”
Both men seem to realize things could be much worse as swollen rivers keep rising in the state’s historic and deadly flood.
More than 20 inches of rain have fallen in and around Baton Rouge over the weekend, and more is on the way, forecasters said.
The disaster is blamed for at least five deaths — one in Tangipahoa Parish, two in East Baton Rouge Parish and two in St. Helena 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.
“As I busted open the back, my first instinct was just to get a hold of her and pull her out,” Phung said later. “I couldn’t do it from the boat, so I just jumped in. I had to do what I had to do.”
Scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected Monday, and storms will continue through the week. The National Weather Service has posted flood warnings through Monday afternoon.
“One of the things that the weather service told us is that because this flooding is so far above anything that they’ve ever seen, they can’t really model or predict how wide the water’s going to flow and how deep it’s going to get,” Gov. John Bel Edwards told CNN’s “New Day” on Monday.
Thousands of homes that have never taken any water are now flooded, Edwards said, and residents who’ve never experienced such flooding don’t want to leave their homes “because they think that they’re safe.”
Rescue by helicopter
The Coast Guard said it had rescued more than 118 people and assisted more than 766 in Baton Rouge on Sunday. Private citizens also helped out.
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 Sunday.
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 on Monday. “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 CDC 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.
The Louisiana Department of Health told CNN early Monday that there had been a flood-related death in Tangipahoa Parish.
Police confirmed Sunday that a woman’s body had been retrieved from inside a flooded vehicle at North Hampton. 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.
East Baton Rouge Parish suffered another fatality Friday when a 68-year-old man drowned after slipping and falling in floodwaters. In St. Helena Parish, 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 were rescued.
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’
Tom Kelly of Prairieville said he had one wish for Monday: to wake up in his own bed and put his feet on dry ground.
But he knew it was unlikely as he sat on his neighbor’s porch Sunday afternoon, watching floodwater from Bayou Manchac creep above his patio.
“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, some of his neighbors consider themselves lucky.
“We’re praying it stops where it is,” said Kelly’s neighbor, Jenny Ragland, whose home on a ridge was spared similar damage.
Kelly and others planned to spend the night in Ragland’s home. Beyond that, they’re not sure what they’ll do.
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,” Denova told CNN.