At least 40,000 homes impacted by Louisiana floods, governor says

Last Updated Aug 16, 2016 10:11 PM EDT

BATON ROUGE, La. -- As waters receded in parts of Louisiana’s capital city, some residents returned to their flood-damaged homes Tuesday for the first time and found a soggy mess.

Officials painted a stark picture of the crisis so far: at least 40,000 homes damaged and 11 people killed in some of the worst flooding in Louisiana history, touched off by as much as 2 feet of rain in 48 hours. Over 30,000 people have been rescued since Friday, with more being brought to safety by the hour.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a news conference Tuesday that the state is entering a recovery phase while also continuing search and rescue missions in other places. More than 8,000 are staying in shelters, but that number is fluctuating as people arrive and leave the shelters.

Edwards spoke after meeting with FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. The head of FEMA says the agency understands that the state is suffering through a “very large disaster” even though it might not be getting a lot of attention in the news.

CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca reports the concern now is for areas south of Baton Rouge as the flooding heads downstream.

The slow-moving, low-pressure system that dumped more than 20 inches of rain on some parts of Louisiana was crawling into Texas, but the National Weather Service warned the danger of new flooding remained high due to the sheer volume of water flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico.

David Key used a small boat to get to his house in Prairieville and said it had taken on 5 inches of “muddy nasty bayou water.” There were fish and thousands of spiders. And mold has started to set in.

“I’m not going to lie, I cried uncontrollably,” he said. “But you have to push forward and make it through. Like everybody says, you still have your family.”

In Livingston Parish, one of the hardest-hit areas with about 138,000 people, an official estimated that 75 percent of the homes were a “total loss.”

But Lori Steele, spokeswoman for the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, was upbeat, saying the rescues taking place now are less of a “life-saving nature” and more to help people who were running low on supplies in flooded areas. As the main roads drain, emergency crews were going to be able get hot meals, water and medical supplies to the 25 shelters in the parish.

“We’re tired but today’s a good day,” she said.

Performer Taylor Swift told The Associated Press that she is donating $1 million to flood relief. She said the state’s residents graciously welcomed her when she kicked off the U.S. dates of her “1989 World Tour” in Louisiana last year.

“The fact that so many people in Louisiana have been forced out of their own homes this week is heartbreaking,” the 26-year-old said in a statement. “I encourage those who can to help out and send your love and prayers their way during this devastating time.”

Though the rain had mostly stopped, new places in the state faced flood dangers from the deluge that has sent thousands into shelters.

Rivers and creeks were still dangerously bloated in areas south of Baton Rouge as people filled sandbags there to protect their houses, bracing for the worst as the water worked its way south. In Ascension Parish, officials said some small towns have already been inundated.

Since the flooding began Friday, at least 11,000 have hunkered down in shelters to wait out the floods.

The slow-moving, low-pressure system that dumped more than 20 inches of rain on some parts of Louisiana was crawling into Texas, but the National Weather Service warned the danger of new flooding remained high due to the sheer volume of water flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico.

In and around Baton Rouge, many were anxious to check on damage. But a police officer at one Baton Rouge area roadblock warned Jack Miller that the 60-year-old was risking arrest if he tried to drive a boat on a trailer down a stretch of the highway down to just two lanes.

“I’m trying to get back to my home and rescue my cat,” Miller said.

Karla and Johnathon McDaniel waded through chest-deep water to revisit their home they fled late Saturday night but the water was too deep to get inside.

On their way out, the McDaniels stopped to gawk at a monster truck revving its engine in a failed attempt to free a National Guard vehicle mired in a muddy ditch. It was a welcome moment of levity after days of worry around the state’s southeast, which saw thousands of water rescues.

Julee Doiron, 56, and a friend walked down the road to a flooded storage facility where she has a valuable record collection. She felt fortunate the flooding stopped a block short of her home, but she owns a couple of water-damaged rental properties that aren’t covered by flood insurance.

“None of these places are in a flood zone,” she said. “Why buy it if you don’t need it? My agent didn’t recommend it to me.”

In a state more accustomed to hurricanes, forecasters said the rains were nearly off the charts in intensity. Meteorologist Ken Graham of the National Weather Service’s office in Slidell, near New Orleans, said forecasters had alerted people days ahead of the rain. Yet the forecasts Thursday were for 8 inches of rain, with higher totals expected in some areas.

One town, Zachary, received more than 2 feet of rain in a 48-hour period that ended Saturday morning. Another, Livingston, got nearly 22 inches over the same stretch. Rivers in the region reached historic highs - occasionally shattering old records dating to 1983 floods.

Gov. Edwards defended the state’s response, saying unprecedented flooding “presented tremendous challenges for everyone.”

“But I’m very proud of the effort that we’re making. More than anything else, I’m proud that Louisianians are taking care of their own and people are being neighbors to one another,” he said.