Less than a year after a pair of devastating hurricanes struck southwestern Louisiana, heavy rains have inundated Lake Charles, Baton Rouge and other parts of the state, which have seen 100-year rainfall events within a 24-hour period.
Powerful rains on Monday marked the “third heaviest rainfall in the city’s recorded history,” Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said.
Emergency response teams have rescued dozens of residents and pets across the state, as the National Weather Service warns “historic” severe rains could continue to impact more than 30 million people across Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
At least four people have died and hundreds of homes are damaged, according to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.
The body of a 33-year-old man was found in a car submerged in water under a Baton Rouge overpass, and a 40-year-old man died and another person is missing in Port Allen after their car appeared to crash into a canal, according to the governor’s office.
The deaths of two other people in Baton Rouge are believed to be linked to mass power outages in the region.
Entergy, a statewide utility provider, reported more than 15,000 households were without power as of Tuesday morning.
“Unfortunately, more rain is on the way,” the governor said during a briefing on Tuesday. “While we hope that the worst of this rainfall is behind us, we can’t be sure of that.”
A father picking up his kids from school using a kayak on flooded Common St. in Lake Charles, Louisiana. pic.twitter.com/zb4RkBRx4S
— Jeremy Babineaux (@jeremybabs) May 17, 2021
More than 200 people were rescued after as much as 15 inches of rain struck Lake Charles on Monday, according to state agencies.
Roughly 120 miles to the east, more than 300 people were brought to higher ground in Baton Rouge and the state’s capital region, where some areas saw as much as 13.7 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service.
Parents in Lake Charles were filmed picking up their children from school in kayaks on Monday as roads became impassable and residents battled floodwaters from breaching their homes and businesses.
Mayor Hunter said the total rainfall had exceeded the amount from Hurricane Laura in August and Hurricane Delta in October.
Laura struck the region on 27 August, followed by Delta six weeks later, and a deep freeze across the region in February, all during the coronavirus pandemic.
“When you look at these rain totals, they will meet the threshold of a 100-year event,” Mayor Hunter said during a briefing on Monday. “And it’s getting to be perhaps a little of a misnomer to call these events ‘100-year events’, because they are happening more often.”
President Joe Biden visited Lake Charles earlier this month to promote his American Jobs Plan, a sweeping $2.2 trillion infrastructure package, pointing to a 70-year-old Interstate 10 bridge as emblematic of the need to update the nation’s roads and bridges.
But Louisiana officials had hoped the president would address the need for critical federal relief in the wake of last year’s hurricanes. The governor has pushed for $3bn in federal aid to support the state after 2020 storms.
“It’s hard to believe that you got hit as badly as you have within the timeframe you have,” Mr Biden said of the hurricanes during his remarks on 6 May. “I believe you need the help. We’re going to try to make sure you get it. But the people of Louisiana have always picked themselves up, just like America always picks itself up.”
Following Delta and Laura, Lake Charles lost 6.7 per cent of its population, the highest loss rate in the US in 2020, according to an analysis from The New York Times.
Four per cent of its residents, roughly 3,000 people, remain displaced more than eight months after Hurricane Laura. Preliminary results from the 2020 Census found that the state saw a 2.7 per cent overall decrease in its population from a decade ago.
A housing study from the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana found all households in Calcasieu Parish filed claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and more than 44,000 homes – roughly half of the parish’s housing stock – were damaged in at least one of the hurricanes.
More than a quarter of all homes were damaged and labeled “uninhabitable,” the report found.