Unusually widespread flooding across Louisiana, Mississippi
Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press
Published Saturday, March 12, 2016 2:41PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, March 12, 2016 7:48PM EST
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- As the Leaf River rose north of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 26-year-old Rebecca Bruce and her fiance grabbed what they could and left the shed where they live. The water was more than 2 feet deep indoors when they left, she said.
"We lost everything," Bruce said Saturday. "I've got a book bag full of dirty clothes, and I was lucky to get that."
Bruce was among about 20 people in a Red Cross shelter in the Forrest County Community Center on Saturday, as creeks and rivers continued to rise after torrential rains pounded the Deep South. It was one of nine shelters open in Mississippi and 24 in Louisiana.
Downpours -- part of a system affecting Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama -- submerged roads and cars, washed out bridges and forced residents to flee homes.
At least three people have died in Louisiana alone. Mississippi officials were still looking for two missing fishermen, but had no reports of injuries or deaths, said Lee Smithson, head of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, or MEMA. A Hancock County sheriff's deputy was hospitalized after his patrol car skidded into a ditch Friday night, but is now recovering at home, Chief Deputy Don Bass told the Sun Herald (http://bit.ly/1RGmhdZ ).
MEMA reported major damage to 95 homes, minor damage to 277 others, with reports still coming in from 41 of the state's 82 counties.
Smithson said Mississippi is dealing with the most widespread flooding since Hurricane Isaac dumped more than two feet of rain throughout the state.
However, he said, "It has not been quite as rough a day as we thought it was going to be today. ... It looks as if the significant rainstorms for the Mississippi Gulf Coast have not materialized."
Officials had been afraid that as many as 1,000 homes might flood in Forrest County, where the Leaf River is expected to crest Sunday at 29.5 feet. But on Saturday, Smithson said, the number likely to be affected was looking more like 100 to 150. About 75 raised fishing camps in Pearl River County, across from Slidell, were likely to be surrounded by water, he said.
In Petal, a suburb of Hattiesburg, Azri Oatis and two friends were steadily shovelling sand into white bags in hopes they could save his slightly raised auto paint and body shop from the waist-deep water in its parking lot.
It's the first time floods have threatened the shop, he said. "Reality kind of slapped me in the face. You see it all the time, other places."
The flooding could be the area's worst in more than 30 years, with the worst damage to low-lying areas in the southern and western parts of town, Petal Mayor Hal Marx said. "We've tried to tell for folks in those areas to get prepared, to get their belongings out," Marx said Saturday at the police station.
It's the most widespread non-hurricane flooding the Louisiana National Guard has ever dealt with, said Col. Pete Schneider, a guard spokesman. He said about 1,000 soldiers and air crews were at work in 25 of Louisiana's 64 parishes.
By Saturday morning, he said, National Guard crews in 160 high-water vehicles and 44 boats had rescued more than 2,100 people and nearly 190 pets. Others had given out 582,000 sandbags.
Floods closed highways across north Louisiana, along its western edge and across the southeast, according to a map on the state Department of Transportation and Development website.
"We have seen flood events in this state but never from one tip of the state to the next," Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told WDSU-TV (http://bit.ly/1RWMeIR).
A power substation flooded, keeping Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative Inc. customers south of Folsom without power, spokeswoman Coylean Schloegel told the station (http://bit.ly/1WhAu4Q ).
The storm dumped so much water into the Ouachita River at Sterlington, about 25 miles north of Monroe that it was running backward, John Stringer, president of the Tensas Basin Levee District, told The News-Star (http://tnsne.ws/1UoFBBh ). "There are some strange things happening with this storm that I've never seen before," he said.
Michael Sorrels, a hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Vicksburg District, said river elevations appeared to bear this out. "Now I've seen it all," he said.
Reporter Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report from New Orleans.