DISASTERS: FLOODS :
UNITED STATES: STATES: LOUISIANA :
ENVIRONMENT: GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE :
In Louisiana, the Political Mess May Outlast the Flood
In Louisiana, the Political Mess May Outlast the Flood
A feud over federal relief looms in Washington, but first the country just needs to pay attention.
By Andrew Vanacore
August 27, 2016
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BaATON ROUGE, La. Imagine everything you own, dunked in dirty water and mounded on the curb outside your house. Old VHS tapes, the piano, the wardrobe, the family photos. The water came up so quickly you couldnt save anything. Now, imagine the same thing at the house next door and the one across the street. All the way down the block and the block after that. Ramparts of debris, piled head-high in front of every home. Thats how things look right now across whole neighborhoods of Baton Rouge and the surrounding counties, or parishes as theyre called in Louisiana. Its all the more breathtaking because it wasnt supposed to happen here. This isnt below-sea level New Orleans caught in the path of a hurricane. This is the high-and-dry state capital. This is where people fled after Hurricane Katrina, and, ironically, where many stayed, thinking they were finally out of harms way.
And yet here we are, with 13 dead and perhaps 40,000 homes damaged (the estimate keeps climbing) after a storm that dropped more than 20 inches of rain in some areas over the space of a few days. Meteorologists pegged the odds of seeing an event like that in a given year at between 0.2 percent and 0.1 percenta once-in-a-1,000-years storm. Nearly a third of the state has been declared a federal disaster area.
Two weeks after the rain finally stopped and the flooding began to recede, a reflexive need to help has taken hold. Co-workers, church groups and perfect strangers are still turning up to help stunned flood survivors tear out sodden drywall and insulation. Neighbors downriver, who have done all this before, are eager to lend a hand. As are the nonprofit groups that sprang up in Katrinas wake, with intimate knowledge to pass along about battling the red tape of the recovery bureaucracy and the black mold endemic to water-logged houses. While the flood was still rising around peoples homes, a fleet of good Samaritans with fishing boats, known locally as the Cajun Navy, came to the rescue. In Lafayette, a city to the west of Baton Rouge where low-lying neighborhoods had been swallowed by the Vermilion River, I ran into a couple who had driven a half hour from Opelousas with a boat in tow. They were sick of watching the disaster unfold on Facebook and the TV news. People need help, they said.
But this kind of goodwill is going to do only so much for beleaguered flood survivors. And thats where the politics of Americas latest natural disaster will get dicey. Start with the local officials in charge of hauling off all of that putrid debristhe contractor in charge in Baton Rouge says he has enough trucks; well seeand go all the way up to Louisianas new Democratic governor and the Washington lawmakers holding on to the federal purse strings. Data from the local chamber of commerce show there were twice as many homes inundated in the region as active flood insurance policies. Local officials estimate that nearly half the homes that took on water in East Baton Rouge werent even inside areas where mortgage companies require flood coverage. If these people are going to fully recover, it will be up to state or federal taxpayers to bear the burden.
First, the good news. The man in charge at the Federal Emergency Management Agency these days is Craig Fugate and not Michael Brown, who became the face of a botched federal response after Katrina. Brown still arguesas recently as last year in this magazine, actuallythat he was not to blame for the ghastly suffering that took place in the Superdome and elsewhere, saying the important decisions were out of his hands. But its hard not to feel better about the new guys track record. We learned in 2005 after Katrina that Brown, before his time at FEMA, used to work for the International Arabian Horse Association. Fugates rumis basically just a list of dozens of storms that he helped respond to while he was an emergency manager in Florida, first at the county level and then for the state. So far, he hasnt had a heck of a job moment damage his career the way Brown did.
The complete article may be read at the URL above.
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