LAKE CHARLES — Twelve years to the day after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, another deadly storm forced the rescue of hundreds of people 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, although water abated in some places Tuesday as rain slackened.
In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu urged residents to stay home Tuesday because of the threat of potential flooding. Many appeared to be heeding his call.
Meanwhile, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Louisiana is offering to shelter storm victims from Texas.
“We have offered to stand up shelters specifically for individuals who would be transported out of Texas, so that they could be
housed in shelters in Louisiana, particularly in north Louisiana, in the Shreveport area,” he said at a news conference in Baton Rouge. Edwards said he expects Texas officials to decide within 48 hours whether to accept the offer.
Later, in Lake Charles, Edwards urged people to remain alert but said the state is responding well to less severe conditions in its own borders.
“You never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at us, but with the people in this room, I’m confident we can handle it,” he told local and state officials.
Some New Orleans neighborhoods flooded earlier this month during a deluge that exposed problems with the city’s pump and drainage system. On Tuesday, rains flooded a few of the city’s streets.
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.
About 500 people were evacuated in southwest Louisiana’s most populous parish overnight, as a heavy band of rain pushed waterways out of their banks, Calcasieu Parish spokesman Tom Hoefer said. 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.
A lull in the heavy rains allowed water to recede Tuesday morning, enabling some who fled their homes to return, survey damage and remove possessions.
“I wanted to get my mother’s Bible out of the house and there were some things we needed — our medicine, we’re both on medications,” said David Wells, 65. “I got a feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets any better.”
Evacuations continued Tuesday in some rural areas outside Lake Charles, with authorities working to empty a flood-prone subdivision near the town of Iowa. Officials in Acadia Parish advised residents near the Mermentau River and Bayou Nezpique to leave.
Family members and authorities in Texas have reported at least 18 deaths. No Harvey-related deaths were immediately reported in Louisiana, according to a spokesman for Edwards.
The high water in Calcasieu Parish surprised residents of some neighborhoods not known for flooding. The Kayouche Coulee spilled over when heavy rain hit the area after sunset, and people began calling for rescue.
Residents rode out of neighborhoods in National Guard trucks, wildlife agents’ boats, jacked-up pickups and clinging to the cab of a semi-truck. 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.”
National Weather Service meteorologists said Tuesday that officials expect Harvey will make another landfall in Cameron Parish early Wednesday, after hitting Texas and meandering back into the Gulf of Mexico.
As much as 6 to 12 more inches of rain (15 to 30 centimeters) could fall in western Louisiana.
“We are starting to get down to the end of the tunnel of all this rain,” National Weather Service meteorologist Roger Erickson said.
Harvey is projected to bring gusts up to 50 mph (80 kph) in coastal areas and gusts of up to 40 mph (65 kph) in Lake Charles and along the Interstate 10 corridor.
Erickson warned that some coastal rivers won’t be able to drain rains effectively because Harvey’s winds are pushing storm surge into coastal waters, aggravating flooding of areas that have already received more than 20 inches (51 centimeters) of rain.
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.