At least six people were killed after waterways in the southeastern corner of the US State of Louisiana broke their banks. More than 20,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes, officials said.
Some areas received more than 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain in a few days, submerging vast swaths of southern Louisiana in muddy waters and breaking a previous record set in 1983. The rain was reported as mostly stopped for the time being, however, rivers in many areas continued to run high while new places were swelling with floodwaters.
More than 20,000 people have had to evacuate from their homes with little to no prior planing to the floods
In areas south of Baton Rouge, people filled sandbags to protect their houses while bracing for the worst as the water worked its way south. In Ascension Parish, officials said some small towns were already swamped by floods. Rescue efforts in some areas were reminiscent of scenes from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago.
The floods this year have so far stayed out of New Orleans, which was almost completely submerged during Katrina.
"Our state is currently experiencing a historic flooding event that is breaking every record," Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement.
"This event is ongoing, it is not over," the governor added.
"But I'm very proud of the effort that we're making. More than anything else, I'm proud that Louisianians are taking care of their own, and people are being neighbors to one another."
Federal government mobilizes
The White House made emergency federal funding available to support rescue crews and recovery efforts by declaring four Louisiana parishes major disaster areas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began asking those affected by the floods to apply for assistance, and officials said 11,000 people had already registered early in the day.
"I fully expect that more parishes will be added to the declaration on a rolling basis," Governor Edwards said.
The American Red Cross said it was also responding to the disaster, which it called the worst since Superstorm Sandy flooded coastal areas in New York and New Jersey in 2012. The death toll rose from an earlier reports of three to at least six victims, with unconfirmed reports of a seventh victim surfacing.
Entire villages were submerged in water after record-breaking floods hit low-lying parts of southern Louisiana
As the scope of the disaster became clear, churches, schools and other places opened their doors to take evacuees. Some shelters, however, had to shut down when they, too, started to take on water. Massive shelters were put in place elsewhere to house the displaced, including a Baton Rouge film studio complex and an entertainment center in the state capital's downtown area. Police said the Louisiana National Guard would assist evacuees in emergency shelters.
Some 40,000 homes and business were meanwhile reported without power.
More bad weather to come
Meteorologist Ken Graham of the National Weather Service's office in Slidell outside of New Orleans said that forecasters alerted people days in advance of the storms. However, the forecasts Thursday were mostly for just eight inches of rain. Graham added that the odds of that much rain falling in such a short amount of time were one in 500 in some places, and one in 1,000 in others.
The National Weather Service (NWS) predicted that many waterways would remain above flood levels for at least another day. The NWS added other areas of the United States faced threats of flash floods this week as well - stretching from the Texas coast all the way up to the Ohio River Valley.
ss/se (AFP, AP)