Temporary shelter has been hard to come by for many Louisianians after Hurricane Ida
More than a week after Hurricane Ida devastated south Louisiana, Shelia Rousse is living on the road with her family and two dogs, stringing together temporary housing and trying to figure out where to go next.
Their home in Cut Off, Louisiana, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Ida, is unlivable. The brackets that support the roof have cracked. The chimney and roof tiles flew off during the Category 4 hurricane. Water damage has already set in.
What belongings they salvaged from the house have been distributed among storage units and friends' homes across southeastern Louisiana. Meanwhile, the Rousses continue to bounce between short-term stays looking for a more permanent solution as they work to rebuild the family home.
“It’s a day-by-day situation, trying to figure out where to stay,” Shelia Rousse said as they drove on Tuesday toward Lafayette, where she has a place to stay for the night.
Temporary shelter has been hard to come by for many who lost their homes in Hurricane Ida, the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana since the 1850s. The issue is particularly devastating in places like Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes in the southern part of the state where Ida’s eyewall tore through entire communities.
FEMA has begun offering financial assistance to help some displaced residents find hotel rooms, but community organizers such as Caroline Guidry of Down the Bayou Mutual Aid Fund have heard that many people are struggling to find vacancies. Demand for lodging has also soared due to the influx of volunteer workers helping with the restoration of power and other utilities.
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“Yes, they’re giving them free lodging but there's no places to stay,” Guidry said.
The nearest shelter to Lafourche Parish — where Guidry is working to raise donations and funnel aid to residents in need — is an hour away at the Assumption Parish Community Center in Napoleonville, Louisiana. The Red Cross is also operating four shelters for evacuees in the Morgan City area, also about an hour away.
As of Sept. 7, approximately 127 people from Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes were staying at the Napoleonville shelter, said John Boudreaux, director of homeland security and emergency preparedness for Assumption Parish.
Total capacity at the shelter is limited by COVID-19 social distancing requirements, Boudreaux said. But Guidry said most Lafourche Parish residents she’s spoken with either lost their vehicles or don’t have the means to drive an hour away.
“That’s quite a trek for people who have lost everything,” Guidry said. “There are people living in their tents popped up along the bayou. There are people with five families living in one house. And in a lot of cases, these people don't have generators, which means they don't have AC.
“The situation down the bayou is more dire than most people realize."
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Lynsi Blanchard, also from Cut Off, has been staying in her family's houseboat along with her boyfriend, mom, stepdad and two sisters since the storm.
Her mother’s home was severely water damaged and they’re spending the week attempting to remove moldy insulation from the attic.
With no nearby shelters, Blanchard is thankful her family is safe on their boat, the Miss Rachel.
“We are pretty lucky," she said. " Considering there are a lot of people in the area staying in tents, on their porches, or on their docks where their (fishing) camps were once attached."
While lesser impacted areas in Louisiana, like New Orleans started getting power back late last week, it’s estimated that hard-hit areas such as Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish won't see full power restoration until Sept. 29, according to Entergy Louisiana.
Aside from prolonged power outages, many houses have no running water. For some that have working faucets, the water runs brown, adding to the harsh living conditions.
Shelters officials in Napoleonville and other areas are working to connect residents with FEMA assistance while also offering food, fresh clothes and a place to sleep. But it's difficult, Boudreaux said, especially for evacuees who don’t know when they’ll be able to safely return and assess the damage.
“The biggest challenge is trying to manage the care of the folks,” Boudreaux said.
“We’re all human and these locations where they’re from, it’s going to take a long time, if ever, for them to get back to their homes down the bayou. And they can’t go back and look and see what they got yet.”
In Terrebonne Parish, power was restored to their water plant on Sept. 8, according to an official update on Twitter. With power potentially out until the end of the month, parish spokesman Mart Black, said that parish officials were trying to identify elderly and medically vulnerable residents in need of shelter in other parts of the state.
Black said that Terrebonne Parish has an agreement with other communities including the City of Monroe to use their civic center for evacuees. He estimates that more than 300 residents evacuated from Terrebonne Parish to Monroe ahead of the storm.
With no timeline on when residents will be able to return home, receive long-term temporary housing such as FEMA trailers or complete the rebuilding of their communities, residents have had to rely on neighbors and grassroots groups such as Down the Bayou Mutual Aid Fund to weather the housing crisis.
“We’re still triaging so it’s tough to say what the next step is right now,” Guidry said. “The people down the bayou are asking, ‘Where’s our help?’ I think people are feeling left behind and alone and there is a lot of uncertainty.”