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Louisiana in search and rescue mode: 11 dead, thousands saved

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Louisiana authorities say search crews have rescued 20,000 people stranded in their homes by record floodwaters in the Baton Rouge area.

Eleven people have died in the floods and an estimated 40,000 homes have been swamped, ABC News reports. Jason Ard, the sheriff in Livingston Parish, tells the network 80 percent of the homes in the Baton Rouge area may be destroyed.

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday an area that includes 20 parishes has been declared a major disaster area by the Obama administration. (Louisiana is divided into 64 parishes, which are the equivalent of counties.)

2 1/2 feet of rain

The National Weather Service says century old rainfall records have been broken in recent days, Thomson Reuters reports, with the biggest deluge recorded in the town of Watson, where more than 2 1/2 feet of rain fell from Thursday through Monday.

Many of the hardest-hit areas are well above sea level and have not been prone to flooding historically, National Public Radio reports.

Consequently, few homeowners in the area carry flood insurance. The Times-Picayune says records suggest only a quarter of the residents of Livingston Parish have it.

The Times-Picayune spoke with a man who's lived in Tangipahoa Parish for 75 years and had never had his home flooded – until this past March. Now he's enduring the second "500-year flood" of 2016.

"Worse than Katrina"

Sheriff Ard of Livingston Parish invoked previous storms and hurricanes when he told the Los Angeles Times: "We've experienced flooding. Katrina, Rita, Isaac ... This is – by far – the worst I've seen."

New Orleans has been spared the brunt of the current flooding. But hundreds of those who remember Katrina only too well have come to the Baton Rouge area to help.

The Times-Picayune profiled Joe Spinato who showed up with five friends and two airboats. The newspaper reports the group has saved more than 500 people stranded in Baton Rouge homes and is part of a network known as the Cajun Navy.

Red Cross helping

The American Red Cross has set up three dozen shelters in Louisiana and says more than 8,000 people used them Monday night. The relief organization says more than 1,000 of its volunteers from all 50 states have reached Louisiana.

That includes 13 volunteers and an Emergency Response Vehicle from Minnesota, a spokeswoman for the state office said in an email.

Donations made on the Red Cross' web page can be earmarked for the Louisiana floods.

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