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Louisiana floods: Worst U.S. disaster since Sandy

The death toll from Louisiana’s flooding has risen to 11, as thousands of volunteers are rushing to assist the state stricken by what American Red Cross officials called the U.S.’s worst national disaster since Superstorm Sandy.

John Booth (left) sits with Angela Latiolais's family while helping them save belongings after flooding on Tuesday in Gonzales, Louisiana. Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

John Booth (left) sits with Angela Latiolais’s family while helping them save belongings after flooding on Tuesday in Gonzales, Louisiana. Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

More than 40,000 homes have been hit by the water, and 30,000 people been rescued. Nearly 8,000 people still remain in emergency shelters, as rain continued to fall on Tuesday.

According to the National Weather Service, most of the state has seen at least 12 inches of rain since Friday, and some areas have received as much as 30 inches.

Brad Kieserman, the Red Cross’s vice president of disaster services, said on Tuesday that the relief operation had cost at least $30 million so far, but is expected to “grow as we learn more about the scope and magnitude of the devastation.”

The Red Cross dispatched an army of volunteers to flood-ravaged Louisiana on Wednesday to deal with what the relief group is calling “the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy.”

The 1,000 recruits are from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, said Brad Kieserman, who helps run the Red Cross’ logistics and disaster services operations.

“The Red Cross is mounting a massive relief operation, which we anticipate will cost at least $30 million and that number may grow as we learn more about the scope and magnitude of the devastation,” said Kieserman.

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So far at least 11 people have been killed, some 40,000 homes damaged, and 30,000 people rescued in what officials have described as some of the worst flooding ever to hit the state.

Around 8,400 people remain in emergency shelters, days after the deluge began.

Among the dead was 58-year-old Bill Borne, whose body was found Tuesday in a wooded area near Mallard Lakes – about 16 miles east of Baton Rouge, county coroner William “Beau” Clark confirmed. The cause of death was accidental drowning.

Borne was the founder of the national home nursing company Amedisys, the company confirmed.

“Bill Borne was a star-spangled, American hero, filled with energy, commitment, passion, initiative, courage and fun,” Amedisys board chairman Donald Washburn said in a statement.

Most of Louisiana has received at least one foot of rain since Friday – with some places getting as much as 30 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Although the water has receded in some areas, it’s still rising in others as the floodwaters move downstream toward the Gulf of Mexico.

And the scale of the devastation has become increasingly more apparent in areas where the floodwaters have receded.

Grammy Award-winning musician Taylor Swift said she was donating $1 million to flood relief because of the warm welcome she was given when kicking off her world tour in the state last year.

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“The fact that so many people in Louisiana have been forced out of their own homes this week is heartbreaking,” the 26-year-old performer said in a statement. “I encourage those who can to help out and send your love and prayers their way during this devastating time.”

Fellow pop star Lady Gaga also said she would donate in a tweet Wednesday, adding that “thoughts and prayers to all of our loved ones in Louisiana suffering through the flood.”

President Obama on Sunday signed a major disaster declaration and since then some 66,000 people have requested help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which already had people in place before the flooding started.

Twenty parishes were under a federal disaster zone and more than a dozen were subject to overnight curfews. At least 14 people have been arrested for looting over the last two days in East Baton Rouge Parish and nine more were arrested for the same crime in nearby Livingston Parish, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

There was “total devastation” in some sections of East Baton Rouge Parish and “significant” power outages, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux reported Tuesday.

In Livingston Parish, more than three quarters of all homes have already been “lost to floods,” Lori Steele, a spokeswoman for the parish, told NBC News.

“We’re devastated in Livingston,” Livingston Sheriff Jason Dore said at a news conference.

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Floodwaters were slopping over the top of the the Laurel Ridge levee, which protects the parish in the Baton Rouge metropolitan area from the Amite River, according to the Ascension Parish Homeland Security Office.

A third of Ascension’s 45,000 homes have been flooded – and waters there are expected to rise.

“The next 24 to 48 hours is going to be a significant indication of just how much risk the parish remains in,” said Rick Webre, director of the Homeland Security Office.

Forecasters said the worst of the rain is likely over, but the southern part of the state is still expected to see some two inches more of rain through Friday, the NWS said.

Louisiana residents are struggling with how to cope amid the uncertainty.

Ascension Parish resident Nick Babbin had just bought his home in February, and was forced out by the floodwaters Saturday. He returned Tuesday to find it completely destroyed.

“I try to hold back as many tears as I can,” Babbin told NBC affiliate WDSU.

Flood victim Samuel Ancar was evacuated Saturday from his Baton Rouge home with his three-year-old daughter and mother in tow, he told NBC affiliate WVLA. He said he survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when it seemed like “the world was coming to an end.”

This time around, he has lost all of his belongings – again, he said. But he is thankful his family is safe and remains hopeful that they can rebound.

“Just leave it in God’s hands and it will all work out,” Ancar said.

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