As a result of historic flooding that has left at least five people dead in Louisiana, President Barack Obama declared parts of that state a disaster area on Aug. 14. Across southern Louisiana rivers and creeks overflowed as two feet of rain fell over a 48-hour period, and the record floods have also caused caskets to come to the surface in parts of the state.
Obama issued the disaster declaration after speaking with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, reports the Daily Mail. As a result, federal aid is now available to the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St. Helena and Tangipahoa, which are those areas hit hardest by the floods. According to Governor Edwards, other parishes could be added to the list.
In a statement, Governor Edwards also noted that more than 10,000 people are being temporarily housed in shelters, and more than 20,000 have had to be rescued from the high waters. “We're very much still in the search and rescue mode,” added James Waskcom, director of the state's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Helicopters are still transporting food and water to those still trapped by floods, said Louisiana State Police Colonel Michael Edmonson said, and some 1,700 members of the Louisiana National Guard have been deployed for rescue efforts.
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A particularly macabre result of the disaster has been the sight of caskets being unearthed by the rising waters. In Denham Springs, coffins were even seen floating down the street.
As USA Today notes, floating caskets are not uncommon during floods in parts of the South. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike all caused caskets to be displaced, the newspaper notes.
As Calcasieu Parish Coroner's Investigator Zeb Johnson said in an interview with KPLC: “We have lots of experience, unfortunately with Katrina, Rita and Ike, in recovering caskets, and it's just not good for family members to be out in the cemetery.”
In past cases, people have attempted to retrieve stray caskets of their loved ones, but Johnson warns against it: "Do not go to the cemeteries. These vaults weigh 1,600 to 1,800 pounds; caskets are full of water and if they are full of water, we know how to handle that and take care of it."