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Flood-weary Louisiana cleans house while search continues

Daniel Stover, 17, moves a boat of personal belongings from a friend’s  flooded home Saturday in Sorrento, La. (Max Becherer / Associated Press)
Daniel Stover, 17, moves a boat of personal belongings from a friend’s flooded home Saturday in Sorrento, La. (Max Becherer / Associated Press)
By Rebecca Santana Associated Press

ST. AMANT, La. – Flood-weary residents cleaned out houses Saturday as search parties went door to door looking for survivors or bodies trapped by flooding so powerful in some cases it disturbed the dead and sent caskets floating from cemeteries.

At least 13 people died in the flooding that swept through parts of southern Louisiana after torrential rains lashed the region. An estimated 60,000 homes have been damaged, and 102,000 people have registered for federal assistance so far.

As waters are receding, residents are faced with mud-caked homes so thoroughly soaked that mold is a top concern.

“It’s much worse than I expected,” Sheila Siener said. “The water, the dirt, the smell. Water in the cabinets. Everything’s filthy. I’ve never been through a flood, so I really didn’t know.”

In other areas the water is still high enough to cause concern. In Lake Arthur, pumps and sandbags were keeping floodwaters out of the town of 2,700 in southwest Louisiana. But authorities said there’s still too much danger for people to return.

In a uniquely Louisiana problem, some families are also trying to rebury relatives whose caskets were unearthed by the floods.

At least 15 cemeteries across seven parishes have had disruptions, the Louisiana Department of Health reported Saturday.

The department is reaching out to affected parishes to do assessments. In most cases, the disinterred caskets and vaults are still within the territory of the cemetery, although one casket ended up in a nearby backyard.

Willie Brooks III said Saturday that he went earlier in the week to see his grandmother’s grave at the Plainview Cemetery in Denham Springs, after hearing on social media that one woman said her mom’s vault was gone.

“The vault was completely gone,” Brooks said. Instead there was just a hole where his grandmother’s vault used to be. “It could be down the street. It could be in the Amite River. I don’t know.

“It’s like a horror movie.”

In other areas, the search for the living goes on.

Breaking down the various parishes where floods swept through on a grid, search teams have been checking for signs of life, like fresh tire tracks or debris piled up, indicating someone is inside cleaning things out.

“If we go by and this house has waterline up to the roof line, no one’s been there, there’s no trash piled out by the road, we want to check that house to see if anyone inside that, maybe, perished,” said Clint Sistrunk, a firefighter.

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