US President Barack Obama has issued a “major disaster” declaration for the state of Louisiana, where historic flooding has killed at least five people and stranded thousands more.
Obama called Governor John Bel Edwards to inform him of the decision, the White House said in a statement on Sunday night, two days after Edwards requested a state emergency as heavy rains soaked southeast Louisiana southern Mississippi.
The president told Edwards that the federal government will help Louisiana with its ongoing rescue and recovery missions.
“We are thankful for the federal government’s quick response to our request for an emergency declaration,” Edwards said in response.
The declaration makes federal funding available to those who were affected by the flood in at least four parishes of Tangipahoa, St. Helena, East Baton Rouge and Livingston that were hit the hardest.
Edwards told media that over 7,000 people were trapped in the flood and rescue teams were busy pulling them out of swamped cars, flooded homes and threatened hospitals.
Although the storm system is now headed towards Texas, Edwards warned Louisiana residents to remain cautious as water levels were going to rise due to more rains.
“Even with the sunshine out today intermittently, the waters are going to continue to rise in many areas, so this is no time to let the guard down,” the governor said.
According to Michael Martin, director of operations for the St. Helena Parish Sheriff’s Office, the small town was largely cut off as all major roads into Greensburg, near Baton Rouge, went under water.
Large National Guard vehicles were the only vehicles capable of moving in and out of the city, Martin noted. Nearly 1,700 Louisiana National Guard forces have been deployed to speed up rescue missions.
In Tangipahoa, a village located northeast of Baton Rouge, many homes were destroyed and at least two people were swept away by flood, Police Chief Darrell Martin told CNN.
JoAnne Moreau, the emergency management director in East Baton Rouge Parish, said the flooding is the most severe the area has seen in more than 30 years.
According to officials, river stations across Louisiana have already recorded water levels beyond the flood stage, with some areas reporting heights that exceed 500-year flood levels.
Louisiana experienced a similar situation in March, when thousands of homes in the northern parts of the state were damaged as a result of devastating floods.