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By Corky Siemaszko

The South was swamped Thursday by torrential rainfall that has killed at least five people, turned roads into rivers and forced thousands of people to flee their flooded homes and head for higher ground.

Louisiana got the worst soaking, with 20 inches of rain recorded in Monroe and 16 inches more in Shreveport — putting the state on the path toward shattering the record set in October 2009, when 20.56 inches was recorded, according to The Weather Channel.

Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency in 22 flooded parishes and deployed 750 members of the National Guard to help with evacuations in what the National Weather Service called a "historic flash flooding event."

So far, more than 3,500 people have been evacuated and at least three people in the state have died, the governor's spokeswoman, Shauna Sanford, told NBC News.

In Bienville Parish, an elderly man drowned when his car was swept into Saline Creek. Another driver drowned in Ouachita Parish. And in Monroe, a 6-year-old was killed in a car when the driver lost control of the vehicle and struck an overpass support.

"We're asking people to take this seriously and pay attention to the weather reports and advisories given out," Edwards said. "We're doing all that we can, and this is a team approach."

With more river flooding expected, state government offices in Baton Rouge closed early Thursday, and schools in the area canceled classes Friday.

"This system has a lot going for it as it slowly moves across the area through Saturday," the National Weather Service said in a forecast discussion Thursday evening, which said New Orleans could expect as much as 8 more inches of rain overnight and Friday.

Sarah Yatcko holds her son, Tucker Neal, as they are evacuated by boat with her father, Jim Yatcko, by sheriff's personnel Thursday in rising floodwaters in Bossier Parish, Louisiana.Gerald Herbert / AP

Earlier, Michael Liles, 30, of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, drowned when his SUV was swept into a creek when torrential rains started lashing the state Tuesday.

And the day before in Texas, Francisco Ruben Garza, 22, drowned after high winds flipped over his canoe while he and a friend were fishing on a bayou in Dickinson.

Double-digit rainfall Tuesday also deluged east Texas, southern Arkansas and northwest Mississippi.

In fact, so much rain has fallen along the Texas-Louisiana border that officials warned that the Sabine River could rise to a level not seen since 1884, The Weather Channel reported.

The wicked weather is part of a massive band of rain stretching from the Gulf of Mexico north to the Ohio River Valley.

More heavy rain is in the forecast Friday for the Gulf Coast, leading the National Weather Service to issue flood watches and warnings over an enormous five-state triangle from New Orleans west to Houston and north to Memphis, Tennessee.

Alex Johnson contributed.