LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) – Twelve years to the day after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, another deadly storm forced hundreds of people to be rescued from floodwaters in southwestern Louisiana and prompted New Orleans to shut down its schools and other key institutions as a precaution.
Tropical Storm Harvey flooded neighborhoods overnight with chest-deep water in the Lake Charles area, near the Texas line.
More than 200 miles to the east, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged residents to stay home Tuesday due to the threat of potential flooding. Many appeared to be heeding his call.
Some New Orleans neighborhoods flooded earlier this month during a deluge that exposed problems with the city’s pump and drainage system. On Tuesday, the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfalls in Louisiana and Mississippi, heavy rains were starting to flood some streets in New Orleans.
Traffic on the bridge from New Orleans’ west bank to the main part of the city was lighter than usual during the morning’s rush hour. The city’s public schools were closed, along with six universities and a medical school. A ceremony and march in New Orleans to commemorate the deadly 2005 storm was postponed until Sunday.
For many others, it was largely business as usual.
“I can’t afford not to open,” said Jerry Roppolo, 65, owner of a popular coffee house where water often creeps over the sidewalk and up to the threshold during heavy rains.
The shop in the Carrollton neighborhood is usually bustling but was slow Tuesday. Roppolo attributed that to the school closures. “A lot of the parents come in on the way to school, on the way from school,” he said.
A lull in Harvey’s heavy rains allowed water to recede in southwest Louisiana communities where hundreds of people were rescued from floodwaters overnight.
About 500 people were rescued Monday night and Tuesday morning across Calcasieu Parish, including many in Lake Charles, according to parish spokesman Tom Hoefer. He said as many as 5,000 parish residents are affected by the flooding, but not all of those people have flooded homes. Some are just cut off by flooded roads.
As of Tuesday, authorities had confirmed three storm-related deaths in Texas. No Harvey-related deaths were immediately reported in Louisiana, according to a spokesman for Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Lake Charles Fire Department Division Chief Lennie LaFleur said rescuers evacuated hundreds of people from one neighborhood, sometimes through chest-deep water. Residents came out in National Guard trucks, wildlife agents’ boats, jacked-up trucks and clinging to the cab of a semi-truck cab. They carried belongings in suitcases, trash bags or even soggy cardboard boxes.
“We all got stuck back there,” said Andrea Boutte, who rode out on the big rig. “Those boats took forever.”
Rescuers focused at first on people with medical problems or who were frail, but eventually offered to take everyone who wanted out. Most people went to homes of friends and relatives. Christopher Booker was waiting to pick up his pregnant daughter, who began calling Booker when water rose above the bottom of her car.
“We’ve been talking for probably like the last two-and-a-half or three hours,” Booker said.
The flooding caught neighbors by surprise because the subdivision of one-story homes isn’t known for flooding.
“I’ve seen some floods, I’ve seen water come up, but nothing like this,” LaFleur said.
People had to be rescued in other communities as well.
Lt. Mark Thrower of the Iowa Fire Department in Calcasieu Parish said emergency workers used a high-water vehicle and boat to evacuate approximately 25 people from waist-deep water in two sections of the town Monday night. Thrower says at least 45 homes in Iowa were flooded, but no injuries were reported.
Although Louisiana doesn’t appear to be facing a threat on par with Harvey’s catastrophic toll in Texas, images of flood devastation in Houston revived painful memories for survivors of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005.
“It really evoked a lot of emotions and heartbreak for the people who are going through that now in Houston,” Ray Gratia said Monday as he collected sandbags for his New Orleans home, which flooded from the massive hurricane that left much of the city underwater for weeks.
Gov. Edwards told reporters Monday that he expects the flood threat to rise as outer rain bands sweep into Louisiana this week.
President Donald Trump, moving to expedite federal disaster assistance, issued a federal emergency declaration Monday for five parishes in southwest Louisiana. Maj. Aaron Duplechin said the Louisiana Army National Guard had deployed 19 trucks and four boats to Calcasieu Parish, in addition to helping evacuate the Coushatta Indian Reservation near Kinder.
Associated Press reporters Kunzelman, Rogelio Solis, Stacey Plaisance, Kevin McGill and Jeff Martin contributed to this report.