Tens Of Thousands Forced From Homes Amid Historic Louisiana Flooding

Aug 15, 2016
Originally published on August 15, 2016 5:19 pm
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In Louisiana, entire towns are under water. The state has been devastated by record flooding since Friday. Six people have died, but the death toll is expected to rise. Boats, helicopters and high-water vehicles are still trying to reach those stranded by floodwaters. More than 20,000 people have been rescued so far. NPR's Debbie Elliott has some of their stories.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: In Baton Rouge, giant soundstages once used to make movies have been transformed into a giant shelter for flood victims.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Shopping will begin after lunch. Thank you so much.

ELLIOTT: Volunteers have brought food and water, toiletries and clothes for people who had to flee with nothing as the flood caught them off guard. Volunteer Kelly Fields is helping a couple looking through a table piled high with donated clothing.

KELLY FIELDS: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: One.

FIELDS: Just one, OK, so how - what size?

ELLIOTT: Augustine and Ngozi Amechi want to get a fresh shirt for a neighbor who evacuated with them.

AUGUSTINE AMECHI: We're trying to get some extra clothing for a lady. You know, she's soaked with sweat, you know? And somebody took her handbag where she had some extra clothing.

FIELDS: What about that, that bag?

NGOZI AMECHI: Yes.

FIELDS: Would that be good?

A. AMECHI: Yeah, that would be fine. That would be wonderful.

ELLIOTT: The Amechis, originally from Nigeria, live in east Baton Rouge. Their Park Forest subdivision is under water.

A. AMECHI: Oh, we were trapped.

ELLIOTT: They were rescued by boat at 4 in the morning on Sunday. Amechi used a flashlight to signal out the window for help as the water rose thigh-high in their house.

A. AMECHI: We didn't know the extent of the disaster until we were on the boat. And all the streets in the neighborhood were all flooded almost to the roof of the house, you know? It was terrible. It was just an experience.

ELLIOTT: They lost everything, but Ngozi Amechi is thankful they got out alive.

N. AMECHI: My thanks goes to those boats men, those boat - they worked day and night...

A. AMECHI: Right.

N. AMECHI: ...Throughout all this period.

ELLIOTT: The Amechis say they thought the flooding would stop when the rain did, but then the water just kept rising. That's a scenario playing out across south Louisiana now as rivers, streams, lakes and canals overflow their banks. Governor John Bel Edwards warns the worst might not be over.

JOHN BEL EDWARDS: So we are still in the response phase. We're about saving lives. We're going to get to making people comfortable and looking after their property.

ELLIOTT: The National Guard and the Coast Guard are helping first responders, but hordes of volunteers have also launched boats to conduct rescues. Officials have evacuated several nursing homes and hospitals. The facilities that have remained open are having trouble remaining fully staffed because so many people are affected by the flood.

Debbie Baham is a home health worker whose apartment complex in Amite was destroyed. She's now in a shelter in that small town east of Baton Rouge.

DEBBIE BAHAM: I mean, we lost everything. I got up at 5 o'clock in the morning to go to work, went in, and the water was just coming in. I mean it just came out of nowhere.

ELLIOTT: She says the water was waist-deep when firefighters came to take them out on fire trucks.

BAHAM: I'm in a world of hurt right now, don't know where I'm going or what's going to happen.

BAHAM: Back at the Baton Rouge shelter, Augustine Amechi says all they can do is depend on one another.

A. AMECHI: In a disaster like this, people should thank God and know that we all are human - same race, human race, OK? And in a disaster like this, you know that people care for each other.

ELLIOTT: Louisiana's insurance commissioner says less than 15 percent of residents in the hardest hit areas had flood insurance. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Baton Rouge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.