Most of Louisiana’s Coast Flooded by Ike

September 16, 2008

Northerly winds began blowing into southern Louisiana on Monday, a change that officials hoped would help clear lingering floodwaters pushed in by Hurricane Ike.

Tim Destri, a National Weather Service meteorologist said tides had already been easing and the situation would get better with a cold front blowing into the state.

The water and debris from Ike kept much of coastal Louisiana off-limits to thousands of evacuees on Sunday, but work continued through the night and into Monday to clear roads, rescue the stranded and get hard-hit south Louisiana back to normal.

Hurricane Ike’s floodwaters are leaving behind vast destruction of a landscape still struggling since the deadly 2005 storm season.

At least 700 people had been rescued since Saturday, but nearly 200,000 homes were still without power, taking its toll on some residents who stayed behind as the storm struck Saturday.

“This won’t ever happen to me again,” Levi Thomas said after being plucked from his home by National Guard troops in a motorboat in flooded Hackberry, about 15 miles inland of the Gulf Coast.

His wife took the other view: Peggy Thomas said she only relented and allowed troops to ferry her to dry land because her husband was so tired of living without electricity.

Other rescues took place in St. Mary Parish, where 65 people were moved to higher ground. Thirty people were saved near Gibson and Bayou Black on the outskirts of Houma, an inland oil and gas town.

Flooding extended far inland. In Lake Charles, officials estimated as many as 500 homes were underwater.

“We’re hoping for the best, but with the water still being high in areas, we have to wait until it recedes before search and rescue teams can get in there,” said Veronica Mosgrove, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s emergency operations.

Ike’s surge inundated many of the same villages, coastal resorts and towns that hurricanes Katrina and Rita washed over in 2005. At least two deaths have been attributed to the storm in Lousiana.

The fresh round of flooding was a blow to efforts to repopulate the extremities of south Louisiana, a subtropical landscape that has steadily vanished and become more vulnerable to hurricanes because of 2,000 square miles of coastal erosion.

Severe flooding was reported over astonishing distances – from bayou towns near New Orleans to Lake Charles, a casino-and-refinery city of 70,000 on the Texas border.

Many of the flooded homes were in places where a construction boom followed World War II and the discovery of oil and natural gas in the swamps and marshes of Cajun Louisiana.

One such area is Cameron Parish, next to southeast Texas, where flooding was widespread and littered the marshes with ruined cars and trucks, mobile homes and houses, massive storage containers and tractor trailers.

The Louisiana National Guard managed to get only a small number of huge military trucks all the way south to the Gulf of Mexico coast. Most of the convoy of Humvees and larger trucks couldn’t get south of Hackberry – where a wrecked shrimp boat for a time blocked the main highway. Guardsmen eventually used a bulldozer to shove the boat out of the way.

But several feet of floodwater coursed across the highway. Strong currents and visibility problems made it impossible to move farther south to survey damage in towns such as Holly Beach and Cameron, Guard spokeswoman Sgt. Rebekah Malone said.

“You can’t see the sides of the road, and if you left the road, you’d just be swept away,” Malone said.

State transportation officials were with the convoy, waiting for the tide to go down so they could inspect the road’s stability.

A stretch of the same highway near Hackberry was swept away during Rita.

Louisiana was on the northeast side of Ike’s churning waters, and took on an extroardinary amount of water that began piling up on the coast Friday.

Associated Press writer Cain Burdeau in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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