Cleanup begins; forecast calls for more lingering rain

Cindy Earl Williams knows her mother’s casket needs to be reburied, but she can hardly imagine going through what will seem like another funeral for her mother.

Her mother’s pink-and-white casket was one of two caskets that floodwaters broke out of their vaults Wednesday in the Rose Hill St. James Cemetery in Belle Rose in Assumption Parish.

“This is sad,” said Williams, who lost her mother Rosalee Earl three years ago.

Belle Rose is one of the communities hit hard by a weather system that’s been moving through south Louisiana, unleashing 10 inches of rain or more in some areas.

Mike Hill, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Slidell, said Thursday that there’s still “a good shot for rainfall Friday and Saturday. This thing is going to linger and be pesky into the weekend.”

Heavy rainfall was expected Thursday night into Friday morning to the tune of 2 to 4 inches, but where and just how much specific areas will get is unknown, Hill said.

“With the very saturated soils, it won’t take a lot of rain to start causing problems again,” said Christopher Bannan, meteorologist with the NWS office in Slidell. “You’ve got some places like Assumption, Ascension, St. James and St. John the Baptist (parishes), even if they have an inch in about an hour’s time frame, they will start seeing problems again.”

The potential for rain will remain high into the weekend and likely will pose challenges for LSU and University of Louisiana at Lafayette as they host NCAA regional baseball tournament games.

By Thursday evening, all roads were open in Livingston Parish and most, with the exception of one lane closed at U.S. 61 at La. 641, were open in St. James Parish.

In Ascension Parish, portions of Burnside Avenue, a main thoroughfare through Gonzales, were barricaded at points between Roosevelt and East Ascension streets; more than 20 roads remained inaccessible due to floodwaters, prompting the reopening of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center gym as a shelter on Thursday evening. The center was opened as a shelter on Wednesday night.

While roads in many places were opening, waterways were closed Thursday evening. Ascension Parish and Livingston Parish officials closed the Amite River and Division Canal to recreational boat traffic until further notice, due to high water and debris.

Residents in Ascension Parish are encouraged to email flood@apgov.us with information of damage to their homes or businesses, and those in St. James Parish are encouraged to email flood@stjamesla.com.

Melissa Wilkins, public information officer for St. James Parish, said that so far, 50 people had notified the parish of flooding or other damage caused by the storm. Parish President Timmy Roussel expects there will be more than 100 in the end, she said.

On Thursday afternoon at the small cemetery in Assumption Parish — on La. 998, a narrow, two-lane road off La. 1 — the water had receded from the ground where the graves stood, but piles of sandbags topped many of the graves, marked by white-painted concrete chambers, which the floodwaters had earlier begun to move upward out of the ground. Some of the chambers were twisted to the side.

The cemetery is for two churches: Rose Hill Baptist Church and St. James United Methodist Church.

Lequita Pearley, of Belle Rose, has made several trips to the cemetery where her grandparents and several aunts and cousins are buried.

Thursday morning, when the water had receded, was the first time she was able to get to the cemetery, where she learned that the gravesite of one of her aunts had been disturbed, with its white, above-ground chamber tilted to one side.

“We have no idea, at this point” how the gravesite will be repaired, Pearley said.

Patrice Anderson lives in a mobile home across the street from the cemetery. Her home ultimately remained unflooded, but on Wednesday, as waters rose, Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack carried Anderson’s 90-year-old grandmother out of the home, while Anderson carried her young children.

People in the area said they’ve seen high water before, and the graves have been disturbed by rainwater before, but the water has never come up as high as it did this week.

Elsewhere in Assumption Parish on Thursday, Liz Falsetta, along with her son and other family members, were carrying things out of her father’s flooded home on La. 403 in Paincourtville.

“We usually sandbag (when bad weather moves in) but we didn’t have time,” Falsetta said.