ST. AMANT, La. — Louisiana continues to dig out from devastating floods, with search parties going door to door looking for survivors or bodies trapped by flooding so powerful in some cases that it disturbed the dead and sent caskets floating from cemeteries.

At least 13 people died in the flooding that swept through parts of southern Louisiana after torrential rains lashed the region. While waters have slowly receded in many areas, the hard work of rebuilding lives is just ramping up, with some people cleaning out their homes while others struggle to find a place to stay.

In a uniquely Louisiana problem, some families are also trying to rebury relatives whose caskets were unearthed by the floods.

At the Plainview Cemetery in Denham Springs, relatives gathered to see what had become of their plots, only to find a chaotic mess with some vaults overturned and in other cases only empty outlines of graves remaining.

“This is bad, it’s just bad. You can’t even come to see people. You don’t know where they’re at,” said Ravonte Thomas, whose relative’s casket was missing.

In southern Louisiana, the water table is so high that people generally cannot be buried six feet under. Caskets are often encased in vaults that are partially above ground, said Zeb Johnson with the Calcasieu Parish coroner’s office, who has extensive experience with recovering caskets scattered by flooding or hurricanes.


At least 15 cemeteries across seven parishes have had disruptions, the Louisiana Department of Health reported, although they don’t yet have an estimate of how many graves, tombs and vaults have been damaged.

The department is reaching out to affected parishes to do assessments. In most cases, the disinterred caskets and vaults are still within the territory of the cemetery, although one casket ended up in a nearby backyard.

In Livingston Parish, which was hit hard by the floods, John Marston from the coroner’s office said they’ve received reports of about 30 caskets unearthed, and they anticipate finding more when waters recede off the southern part of the parish.

“As the water table gets high and the ground gets saturated, it’s just like a boat. It’s going to float,” he said.

The problem is so widespread that the government is asking people who have seen any problems with cemeteries as a result of flooding to contact local law enforcement.

In other areas, the search for the living goes on. Search teams are going house to house at least through the weekend, said Brant L. Thompson from the State Fire Marshal’s office. Breaking down the various parishes where floods swept through on a grid, searchers have been knocking on doors, checking for signs of life like fresh tire tracks or debris piled up, indicating someone is already inside cleaning things out.

“If we go by and this house has waterline up to the roof line, no one’s been there, there’s no trash piled out by the road, we want to check that house to see if anyone inside that, maybe, perished,” said Clint Sistrunk, a firefighter.

He and colleagues from the Monroe Fire Department in northern Louisiana arrived Wednesday, part of waves of first responders who have been coming from all over the state and country to help Louisiana.

“It is devastation, absolute devastation. I mean these homes, there are areas that have not flooded. They never flood and they flooded,” said Stacey Rand of the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s office. “It caught everyone by surprise.”

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