Tens Of Thousands Struggle To Cope After Major Floods In Louisiana

Aug 16, 2016
Originally published on August 16, 2016 6:37 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Louisiana, the death toll keeps rising. Record-breaking floods have killed at least 10 people and damaged some 40,000 homes. The crisis is far from over. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports from Baton Rouge.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: On a sunny but steamy morning, Mercedes Carreno is draping damp papers on a pink ribbon strung from her friend's carport. On the concrete ground, the faces of her children smile up from photographs laid flat to dry.

MERCEDES CARRENO: My son - my first son.

ELLIOTT: A picture of her son taking his first communion - there are school portraits of her four kids and a snapshot taken on Santa's lap. Honor certificates' bright colors faded by the water are scattered on the roof of a car. Carreno says all her belongings were destroyed when the flood overtook her trailer home in Central, a suburb of Baton Rouge. She says the water reached her shoulder before a rescue boat arrived.

CARRENO: The boat come for me and for my family.

ELLIOTT: She says the water has receded some, but she can only get there by boat. A stinking muck covers everything.

CARRENO: And it smells bad in my house.

ELLIOTT: While people like Mercedes Carreno are trying to salvage what they can, elsewhere the crisis is just hitting, warns Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

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JOHN BEL EDWARDS: Nobody is going to be forgotten. We're going to work around the clock, and we're going to do everything humanly possible to render aid.

ELLIOTT: Edwards says as unprecedented floodwaters move south, the door-to-door search and rescue operation continues for both homes and cars.

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BEL EDWARDS: They've been washed off of roadways, and we're going to have to search and mark each of those automobiles. And we pray that we don't find any motorists deceased in those automobiles.

ELLIOTT: Some 30,000 people have been rescued since Friday. State officials say only a fraction of victims had flood insurance because their homes were not in traditional flood zones. FEMA Director Craig Fugate is in Louisiana after the president approved a major disaster declaration. He says federal officials are in place to help with the recovery.

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CRAIG FUGATE: Getting schools open, getting businesses back in operation and looking at long-term housing.

ELLIOTT: It's put a strain on all manner of businesses and community services. School systems throughout the state are closed at a time when the school year would normally just be getting started. Baton Rouge General Hospital has set up a daycare to help workers cope.

(CROSSTALK)

ELLIOTT: And some employees are sleeping on site. CEO Edgardo Tenreiro says all hospitals in the region are operating with reduced staffing levels because of the disaster.

EDGARDO TENREIRO: We think about a third of our employees have been affected in one way or another either because they were flooded themselves or because they couldn't access roads to get to work, so they were, in a sense, trapped in their neighborhoods.

ELLIOTT: That means higher caseloads for nurses and doctors who actually made it into work as they try to help people hurt in the flood. But he says no one is complaining.

TENREIRO: The flood has been some of the worst that we've ever seen in terms of the natural disaster but also some of the best because it shows who we are as a community.

ELLIOTT: Officials say it's going to take time and patience for Baton Rouge and other places hit by the floods to come back. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Baton Rouge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.