By Mark Ballard
More than 7,000 people have been rescued, along with hundreds of pets, and three people have died as a result of flooding caused by historic amounts of rain falling on south Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday.
"I can't say it's worse than a hurricane," Edwards told reporters after being briefed by law enforcement and emergency officials, "but it's plenty bad."
Edwards officially requested federal assistance in paying for emergency operations and overtime. Meanwhile, about a thousand motorists have been stranded more than 24 hours on a string of islands surrounded by deep water crossing Interstate 12 east of Albany.
About 30,000 utility customers -- 9,000 of whom are under water -- are without power and thousands of AT&T cell phones aren't working because a substation on Choctaw Drive in Baton Rouge flooded, said Eve Gonzalez, secretary of the Public Service Commission.
About 8,009 people have arrived at shelters as of Sunday evening, said Marketa Garner Walters, secretary of the state Department of Children and Family Services. But that doesn't include those who evacuated to a number of ad hoc shelters that were opened by churches and other community organizations.
Nearly 2,000 National Guardsmen have been mobilized.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said state offices will be closed Monday in 27 parishes.
Though the sun shined off and on in Baton Rouge on Sunday, Edwards asked residents to tamp down any urge to sightsee and stay at home.
Most of the work being done right now is search and rescue missions of people who need to be evacuated from residences, nursing homes and vehicles. The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, alone, have rescued 1,229 persons in East Baton Rouge Parish and another 826 people in Lafayette Parish -- that doesn't include rescues conducted by other agencies.
The situation, though better, is still precarious as rivers, bayous, canals and streams continue to rise, Edwards said during a briefing at the state Office of Homeland Security Unified Command Group at the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, better known as GOHSEP, in Baton Rouge.
Edwards recommended homeowners use the sunshine to take photographs of damage to their vehicles and residences. The next phase of the disaster will entail personal insurance claims.
The intensity of the storm, which has lingered over the Baton Rouge area for several days, is lessening, but the system is moving westward, Edwards said. The National Weather Service is predicting another 1-to-3 inches of rain throughout the region.
James Waskom, GOHEP director, said, "We're still in the search and rescue mode. There's a lot ongoing, as we speak, in Lafayette Parish, Vermilion Parish and onto the west."
Pockets of motorists remained stranded on islands surrounded by water on Interstate 12 west of Albany, said Louisiana State Police Major Doug Cain.
High water on the interstate led to I-12 being closed yesterday afternoon. The interstate runs through the Florida parishes from Slidell to Baton Rouge. Interstate 12 is likely to remain closed for another few days.
State Police also reported a fatality in a wreck on Interstate 10 near Grosse Tete, but the death was not weather related.
The state Department of Transportation and Development reported the closures of about 200 roads, including more than 30 washouts of state highways. Another 1,400 critical bridges need to be inspected before traffic can freely travel over them.
Click here for the most up-to-date list of road closures.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency must recommend the governor's request for federal aid, which then must be approved by President Barack Obama. It would free the federal government to pay about 75 percent of the state's expenditures in dealing with the emergency. Higher matches, up to 90 percent federal dollars to 10 percent of state spending, are available depending on how expensive the disaster eventually becomes.
Dardenne said the state is spending whatever is necessary in these initial phases of search and rescue as well as sheltering evacuees and other emergency expenditures. The agencies are recording their costs, including overtime, in hopes the president will approve federal aid.
Louisiana's congressional delegation sent a letter to the president Sunday evening supporting Edwards request for a federal disaster declaration.
Prisoners at the Livingston Parish Jail were evacuated Saturday, but no further movement of inmates from state and parish prisons are anticipated, Edwards said.
State government offices will be closed Monday in Acadia, Ascension, Assumption, Beauregard, Cameron, Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Vernon, Vermilion, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes.
If state workers aren't impacted by the emergency but want to help, Dardenne recommended they call their supervisors first to see where they are needed, rather than hit the roads looking for a place to volunteer.
Agency heads will determine which employees are essential and need to remain on duty and those who should report to alternate work sites.
(c)2016 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.