Hurricane Laura: 16 of 23 Louisiana parishes covered by FEMA relief
Sixteen of the 23 parishes seeking broad federal disaster assistance have been approved for the help needed for recovery after Hurricane Laura, according to the governor's office, and one U.S. senator is concerned that the process may get bogged down.
Gov. John Bel Edwards asked the Trump administration to approve the 23 parishes for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Individual Assistance and Debris Removal program. Once approved, the federal money helps individuals and localities recover from the storm.
But changes in the way parishes qualify, including requirements to send damage reports online, could complicate things for some, particularly those without power and internet.
"Louisianians cannot afford to wait until reliable power and internet are restored to apply for federal relief, disaster loans, and other necessary steps virtually," U.S. Sen. John Kennedy wrote Monday in a letter to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor.
"Right now, the situation is dire," Kennedy wrote.
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The agency has changed its qualifying process during the COVID-19 pandemic, opening "virtual disaster centers" that require submissions of damage reports online. FEMA typically mobilizes in-person recovery workers to help with the process.
Louisiana parishes continue to collect information about damage from the storm, an inventory of destruction necessary to qualify for the federal aid, which includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs; low-cost loans for uninsured property loss; and other programs to help residents and businesses recover.
Allen, Beauregard, Vernon Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, Acadia, Ouachita, Vermilion, Rapides, Natchitoches, Sabine, Winn, Grant, Jackson and Lincoln have qualified for the assistance, according to Edwards. Edwards has requested another seven parishes to be included in the declaration.
Edwards announced Rapides, Natchitoches, Sabine, Winn, Grant, Jackson and Lincoln Parishes were approved Tuesday night.
“These parishes were affected when Hurricane Laura made its way up our state, keeping its hurricane-strength winds until it exited. These residents should begin applying for aid from FEMA now. More than 71,000 Louisianans have already applied for FEMA Individual Assistance following Hurricane Laura,” Edwards said. “We continue to make the case for the additional parishes to be approved because of the severity of this terrible storm.”
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The other parishes continue to work toward qualifying for the federal help, a huge boost in their recovery that requires residents to report damage.
The different process FEMA is using for the damage assessment is impacting the process, said Rebecca Broussard, director of Vermilion Parish's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
"With COVID, FEMA isn't coming into the parishes like they do usually...and come and physically look around where the damages are," Broussard said.
Instead, her office is relying on Facebook to get the message out. Another change she said is that residents cannot just call her office to report damages. The assessment is online. Broussard said she has spent a lot of time explaining the process to residents.
"FEMA's not taking it that way any more, they're taking it electronically," Broussard said. "We've got to explain it multiple times a day to people who call in, which we don't mind."
Louisiana’s death toll from Hurricane Laura has climbed to 15, with 300,000 households without power and another 176,000 without running water.
With so many Louisianans without power, Kennedy is urging FEMA to send help with actual federal agency workers who can serve those in need.
"The people of Louisiana are worried about their families, their businesses, and their homes," Kennedy said in his letter. "In that aftermath of this disaster, access to high-speed internet is hard to find. I respectfully ask that you reconsider the decision to make disaster center resources ‘virtual.’ We need boots on the ground, not bureaucrats with iPads on Zoom."
Edwards’ request for federal aid also included Catahoula, LaSalle, Vernon, Bienville, Claiborne, Red River, Caldwell, and Union parishes, which saw widespread damage as Hurricane Laura moved north through central Louisiana.
Damage assessments are ongoing across the state. Each parish must complete a damage assessment to show “the extent of the disaster, its impact on individuals and public facilities, and the types of federal assistance that may be needed,” according to FEMA’s website.
In addition, the state must show that the governor took appropriate action, provided an estimate of the damage to the public and private sectors, and submitted a description of the state and local resources being used. The state also is responsible for estimates of the type and amount of assistance needed and certification from the governor that the state will comply with cost-sharing requirements.
Residents in the parishes approved for aid can apply at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 for the speech and hearing impaired. The toll-free numbers operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day until further notice.