NEW ORLEANS – Heavy downpours pounded parts of the central U.S. Gulf Coast on Friday, forcing the rescue of dozens of people stranded in their homes by waist-high water and leaving dead one man who was trapped by floodwaters.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency as rescue workers in the southeastern part of the state braced for more precipitation through the weekend.
Numerous rivers in southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi were overflowing their banks and threatening widespread flooding after extreme rainfall that began late Thursday, the National Weather Service reported.
A spokeswoman for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office said one man died Friday after slipping into a flooded ditch near the city of Zachary. Casey Rayborn Hicks identified the victim as 68-year-old William Mayfield. His body was discovered around noon Friday.
Dr. William "Beau" Clark, the parish coroner, ruled the death "an accidental drowning."
Mike Steele, a spokesman for the Louisiana Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said requests were coming in for high-water vehicles, boats and sandbags. Tangipahoa Parish alone requested tens of thousands of sandbags.
A flood watch remains in effect through Sunday morning across most of south Louisiana.
The weather service said in a statement that an additional 3 to 5 inches could fall over the area.
In south Alabama, a flood watch was in effect Friday as rain continued in the Mobile area.
The Comite River near Baton Rouge and Amite River near Denham Springs, both in Louisiana, were predicted to set record crests over the weekend. Forecaster Alek Krautmann said both rivers could flood many houses in suburban areas near Baton Rouge.
He also said that flooding downstream in Ascension Parish is a threat, as those swollen rivers will be slow to drain into Lake Maurepas.
The Tickfaw River, just south of the Mississippi state line in Liverpool, Louisiana, was already at the highest level ever recorded at 9 a.m. Friday.
Rescuers were still plucking people from floodwaters in Amite and Wilkinson counties in southwest Mississippi.
Leroy Hansford, his wife and stepson were among those rescued earlier Friday near Gloster.
Hansford, 62, says waters from Beaver Creek, which is normally more than 400 feet away from his house, rose quickly overnight. He said another stepson who lives nearby alerted him.
"We woke up and the water kept on coming," Hansford said. "It came up to my waist." His wife told Hansford that it's the highest she's seen the creek in the 48 years she's lived there.
Hansford said he and his family members all have disabilities, and he's the only one who can swim. Hansford said emergency workers rescued all three in a large military-style truck and took them to the fire station in Gloster, where they were sheltering Friday.
Krautmann said flooding is "quickly becoming widespread" as heavy rains continue, saying officials are considering evacuation orders. Krautmann says one observer near Livingston reported 13.75 inches of rain from midnight to Friday morning.
Krautmann said the ground was heavily saturated by rainfall since Wednesday.
Heavy rain and street flooding prompted the rescue of residents from their homes in Tangipahoa Parish and the cancellation of classes in five school districts, authorities said.
Parish President Robby Miller said authorities rescued 72 people and seven pets stranded by high water. Shelters have been opened in the town of Amite and the city of Hammond to house those who were evacuated.
"They will be allowed to return home once the water starts to recede," he said.
In the Tangipahoa Parish city of Hammond, close to two dozen streets were closed because of high water, and sandbags were made available for pickup by residents hoping to keep water out of homes and businesses.
"The last major flood we had was in March," said city administrator Lacy Landrum. "This one is on track to be a similar event."
In Mississippi, Harrison County Emergency Manager Rupert Lacy said steady rain continued on the Gulf Coast. He said a handful of houses were reported as flooded Thursday, but none have been reported so far Friday.
Keith Townson, manager of Shopper Value Foods in Amite, has lived in the area for 40 years.
"I've seen water in some places I have never seen before," Townson said, "and it's still coming down."