By Bryn Stole
LIVINGSTON, La. (Reuters) - Overwhelmed rivers in much of southern Louisiana receded slowly from record levels on Monday while crews in boats searched for more people stranded in inundated homes after three days of torrential rains that killed seven people.
While the threat of flash flooding moved west into Texas, more than 11,000 Louisianans have signed up for disaster assistance. Many are waiting for the flood waters to drain away so they can determine what can be salvaged from their sodden homes and businesses.
Emergency crews already have rescued more than 20,000 people and continued to search for more after a storm dumped more than 2 feet (61 cm) of rain in three days.
Aerial photographs on Sunday showed houses inundated in mud-colored water with only their roofs visible while the bridge over the Amite River around Port Vincent, Louisiana, was almost underwater. People had become trapped overnight in their cars when the water rose on Saturday over parts of a major interstate around Baton Rouge.
While some rivers were receding on Monday, others downstream were still cresting.
"The water started rising three or four days ago and it's still coming up right now," said Lonnie Wells, 59, as he stood on flooded state highway in French Settlement, a town in southern Livingston Parish.
Wells said he would try to ride out the floods with his chickens, rabbits, goats and dogs, although neighbors urged him to flag down a passing Louisiana National Guard truck to get out.
The Louisiana flooding, which prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to issue a disaster declaration, resulted in seven deaths, National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer McNatt said. Four occurred when people drove vehicles into high waters.
"IT'S GOING TO TAKE A WHILE"
The flood waters were expected to linger.
"It is going to take a while for that water to make its way out,” McNatt, who is based in Fort Worth, Texas, said in a telephone interview.
Rivers in Louisiana crested at record levels in multiple places, with the Amite River reaching 46.2 feet (14 meters) in Denham Springs, 5 feet (1.5 meters) higher than a 1983 record, McNatt said.
In flood-ravaged Livingston Parish, scores of people woke up on Monday in packed emergency shelters, sprawled out wherever they could find room. Emergency rescuers worked through the night to bring to safety people who were still stranded in roads in the middle of subdivisions, surrounded by flood water.
Pierre and Barbara Pitard, both 76, had just minutes to leave their home in Denham Springs as the water rose rapidly. The couple fled first to a neighbor’s two-story house before moving on to a Walmart, a gas station and a community center. They were finally rescued by boat and carried to safety on Saturday night, the vessel rocking as it hit submerged pickup trucks on streets inundated by water.
Pierre Pitard accepted the damage to his home but fretted about the scope of the state's devastation.
"It's already under water," he said of his house. "I'm worried about how you go about getting it fixed because you've got thousands of people now with the exact same problems."
Some 11,000 people already have registered with the federal government's disaster assistance website, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said in a Twitter post on Monday morning.
Flooding in Texas was a concern on Monday with the NWS saying a flood watch extended from Houston to the Hill Country region in the central part of the state. Rain also could menace parts of Arkansas in the next two days, McNatt said.
(Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Bill Trott)