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Some who died in Louisiana floods tried to stay behind, others drowned in vehicles

AP

Brett Broussard tried to wait out the floods. The 55-year-old created a perch Saturday atop a mobile home on his street in the Sherwood Forest area, pillow and all. Family members believe at some point he fell and knocked himself out, eventually swallowed by the muddy current that engulfed the neighborhood.

The Baton Rouge native, who ran an "old-school" printing press, as his brother put it, for most of his career, was found not far from his house, two days after the rest of his family escaped. Broussard died of an accidental drowning, the coroner said.

The people who perished due to what some are calling the Great Flood of 2016 — 13 have died, as of early Thursday — were swept away in vehicles, or were dragged under by debris, or fell into ditches, according to official accounts and those of their families.

Some were the lone fatalities among others traveling with them, like Stacey Ruffin, who escaped from a pickup Friday with her mother and another relative in St. Helena Parish. The latter two clung to branches as the waters rose, one for 16 hours, the other for 24, said Ruffin's aunt, Marilyn Harrison.

Ruffin, of Roseland, was tugged under the surface and didn't survive. The 44-year-old was found Saturday about 20 feet from where her mother had gripped the branch. Her mother had no idea her daughter's body was so close by, Harrison said.

"She loved her mother," Harrison said of Ruffin, a Wal-Mart jewelry clerk who had two children of her own. "If you saw her, you saw her mother. They were that close ... like two peas in a hull."

Ruffin's mother lost two children the same day, Harrison said. When the rains hit, the trio had been traveling from Amite to Greensburg to identify the body of Ruffin's brother, who died Friday of a heart attack.

Though Ruffin's mother survived, "she wanted to give up," Harrison said.

The record floods moved south quickly, cutting a wide path as water spilled out of the banks of the Amite River and its tributaries, uprooting some people multiple times as they sought shelter in places that everyone said would never get swamped.

Of the 12 dead, seven were stuck in vehicles or were found near their automobiles.

On Sunday in Rapides Parish, 57-year-old Odartha Hoggatt, of Leesville, and her grandson bailed out of their vehicle on a road in Hineston called Big Creek, said Lt. Tommy Carnline of the Rapides Parish Sheriff's office.

Sometime later, two women happened to hear the cries of what they thought was a cat, he said. They swam to the screams, which were coming from the child who'd grabbed onto a tree, and saved the youngster, Carnline said.

The boy is under the age of four, he said.

Hoggatt's body was found dead of asphyxia due to drowning, said Rapides Parish Coroner Jonathan Hunter.

For the rest of the story, visit The Advocate’s website.

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