Obama declares disaster in Louisiana

At least five dead, 20 000 rescued during unprecedented floods

United States President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration for flood-ravaged Louisiana, where at least five people have died and emergency crews have rescued more than 20 000 people stranded by unprecedented flooding.

Governor John Bel Edwards said residents had been pulled from swamped cars, flooded homes and threatened hospitals across the southern part of the state.

The already soaked region is expected to get more rain from a storm system stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley.

While the brunt of the storm that brought torrential rains was moving west towards Texas, Louisiana residents should remain cautious, the governor said at a news conference.

“Even with the sunshine out today intermittently, the water is going to continue to rise in many areas, so this is no time to let the guard down,” Edwards said.

Obama issued the disaster declaration on Sunday, the White House said. The initial declaration makes federal aid available in the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St Helena and Tangipahoa.

Edwards said other parishes could be added to the list. Edwards told a later news conference that more than 20 000 people had been rescued from flood waters in southern Louisiana.

In Livingston Parish, most shelters were full, while a Greyhound bus travelling from Memphis, Tennessee, to Baton Rouge was diverted to a shelter because of flooded roads.

About 5 000 people had been forced to sleep in shelters overnight around the state, Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services head Marketa Walters said.

Louisiana state police’s Colonel Michael Edmonson said helicopters were transporting food and water to those still trapped by floods.

Helicopters were also transporting some seriously ill people to areas outside the high waters.

More than 1 700 members of the Louisiana National Guard have been deployed in rescue efforts.

Even as the state grappled with high waters, the National Weather Service forecast heavy rain from the Gulf Coast as far north as the Ohio Valley yesterday, with a threat of flash flooding.

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