System spawns tornadoes, flooding

South Louisiana soaked

A dreary, slow-moving storm front that drenched southern Louisiana Tuesday night and Wednesday got enough momentum Thursday to leave the area behind but not before leaving a parting gift of tornadoes and more rain, flooding streets and swelling bayous and rivers for a second day.

The flooding and tornados prompted Gov. Bobby Jindal to declare a statewide state of emergency Thursday to clear the way for state assistance.

The storm caused significant damage in the Acadiana region, particularly to the west of Lafayette in Acadia Parish, where as much as 12 inches of rain fell from Tuesday to Thursday, flooding homes in Crowley, Church Point and the surrounding rural areas.

A tornado ripped through Breaux Bridge early Thursday, damaging more than 30 homes and businesses along its path, according to the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Although Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport received more than 2 inches of rain overnight on Wednesday and Thursday, the rainfall overall was bit less than earlier predictions of an additional 2 to 4 inches for the region after doses of up to 7 inches Wednesday, said Christopher Bannan, meteorologist for the National Weather Service forecast office in Slidell.

He said the storm front stalled in Lafayette and Eunice Wednesday night and was robbed of some of its moisture by rains along the coast of Louisiana.

Officials in Ascension and Livingston parishes said they continued to monitor closed roads and waterways, as water levels in bayous and canals that had gone down Wednesday evening came back up on Thursday. Pumps in Ascension continued to move out high water.

“Overall it looked a little better today than it did yesterday,” said Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux.

Flash flood watches in place since Tuesday ended late Thursday afternoon in the Baton Rouge area as the storm was on its way out, Bannan said

“Right now, we are pretty much done with this event,” he said.

High water still posed an obstacle for many Thursday as water continued to cover parking lots, front yards and driveways but reports of structures flooding were few, officials said.

Friends and family helped Shirley Shampaine, 70, a retired sausage and chemical plant worker, put sandbags around her flooded patio on Beech Street in Sorrento Thursday and use a shop-vac to remove the water inside. The ground-level patio is attached to her raised mobile home.

Shampaine, who has lived in the Oak Terrace subdivision off Brittany Road since 1977, said Turtle Bayou, which flows behind her home, backed up into her patio for a second time in decades. The last time was Hurricane Isaac last year.

“Thank, God, I got kids,” she said, as she watched her son, his wife and others unload sandbags.

Shampaine later heaved bags herself in the ankle to knee-deep water.

In Livingston Parish, rescuers in high-water vehicles helped people whose vehicles stalled in high water and those whose homes were threatened by flash flooding,

Mark Harrell, director of the Livingston Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, said emergency personnel handled 30 to 35 of those cases Thursday.

He said a boat was used in one instance to pick up people stranded in a house on Horseshoe Road east of the Tickfaw River.

As the front began moving east early Thursday, parts of the Baton Rouge area were put under a tornado watch for nearly six hours Thursday morning until about 10:15 a.m.

In addition to the tornado in Breaux Bridge, the moving front spawned weak early morning tornadoes in Plaquemine in Iberville Parish at 7:35 a.m. and possibly a third northeast of Franklinton in Washington Parish about 10:39 a.m. Thursday, said Bannan, the National Weather Service meteorologist.

Johnnie Balfantz, spokesman for Ascension public schools, said schools in northern part of the parish, including Prairievile and Dutchtown, were ordered to shelter in place while tornado warnings were in effect.

According to the National Weather Service, many rivers in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and other Florida Parishes remained above flood stage by Thursday evening, including the Comite near Joor Road, the Amite at Denham Springs, the Tickfaw at Holden, the Tangipahoa at Robert and Tchfuncte near Covington. Others in flood stage include the Natalbany, Bogue Chitto, Pearl and Bogue Falaya.

Most rivers were expected to crest at the locations in flood stage Thursday — with just with minor flooding mostly — between midnight and 5 p.m. Friday.

Based on the information he has received, Harrell said he doesn’t expect serious backwater flooding to follow the flash flooding of Wednesday and Thursday.

However, parish waterways will remain closed to all but emergency traffic because of debris and the potential for boats to push wakes into homes and camps, he said.

Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez told the Parish Council in Donaldsonville Thursday night that officials continued to watch Bayou Manchac at Alligator Bayou. He said water could reach Alligator Bayou Road.

Bannan said moderate showers are expected mid or late Sunday.

Damage assessments were not yet complete, but floodwaters rose throughout Acadiana, particularly to the west of Lafayette in Acadia Parish, where water flooded homes in Crowley, Church Point and surrounding rural areas.

“About 8 o’clock I woke up and there was water in my house,” said Ashley Trahan, whose home was one of several that took on water in the Shady Oaks subdivision in Crowley.

Floodwaters were pushing hard against her front and back doors, she said, and someone yelled to stay put because help was on the way.

Trahan said she kicked out the screen of her bedroom window and rescuers in a boat pulled her and her three children to safety.

She still seemed a bit shaken Thursday afternoon when telling of the rescue at her sister’s house on the next street over.

Most of the water had receded from homes in Crowley by Thursday afternoon, but several roads were still covered.

Advocate staff writers Bob Anderson, Bret McCormick, Billy Gunn and Richard Burgess contributed to this article.