After Hurricane Laura, residents in parishes not approved for FEMA aid feel ‘completely on their own’

‘We weren’t expecting a tree to fall into our house,’ Shreveport woman says

By: and - September 3, 2020 8:52 am

Hurricane Laura, which maintained hurricane strength as it reached the Arkansas border, caused a tree to fall on Rayvin Miller’s in Shreveport. Miller and her family were living in the home anyway because “they have nowhere else to go.” (Photo provided by Rayvin Miller)

Hurricane Laura hit the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 hurricane shortly after midnight Aug. 27, and, remarkably, after ripping a vertical seam of destruction through the state, was still a hurricane when it exited the state for Arkansas that afternoon. The storm has been blamed for 15 deaths and more than a half million power outages. Laura also left 600,000 Louisiana residents without water, forced the evacuation of 10 hospitals and displaced tens of thousands of people.

The damage was widespread and extensive, but not all Louisianians who suffered damages have been deemed eligible for aid. Gov. John Bel Edwards has requested help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 23 of the state’s 64 parishes, but as of Wednesday afternoon, residents in only 16 of those parishes had been made eligible for help. They are: 

  • Acadia
  • Allen
  • Beauregard
  • Calcasieu
  • Cameron
  • Grant
  • Jackson
  • Jefferson Davis
  • Lincoln
  • Natchitoches 
  • Ouachita 
  • Rapides
  • Sabine 
  • Vermilion
  • Vernon
  • Winn

Emergency aid for Bienville, Catahoula, Claiborne, LaSalle, Natchitoches, Ouachita and Union parishes had not been approved Wednesday.

“We’re hopeful that FEMA will see what we saw,” Edwards said at a Tuesday press conference when a reporter asked about the frustration of residents who have damage but live outside the designated areas getting federal aid. “And that is that the damage (to other parishes) is extensive enough, concentrated enough that the populations are vulnerable enough… that they would be approved. We’re going to continue to advocate on their behalf.”

Edwards said in the meantime, the state and nonprofits are delivering supplies such as food, water and tarps to parishes that do not qualify for FEMA disaster assistance, as well as providing generators to critical facilities.

“We’re working as hard as we can as a state,” Edwards said.

But there are people outside the jurisdictions named in the governor’s request who say they need assistance, too.  

A tree fell on Rayvin Miller’s house after Hurricane Laura ravaged Shreveport. Miller and her family have been living in the home anyway because “they have nowhere else to go.” (Photo provided by Rayvin Miller)

Rayvin Miller rents a house in Shreveport that she says suffered structural damage from Hurricane Laura, but she, her mother, her sister and two nieces are still there, she said Tuesday, because they don’t have options. Caddo Parish is not among  the 16 parishes that have been approved for FEMA help. It’s not even among the 23 parishes that Edwards has sought help for — even though Hurricane Laura’s winds were clocked at 66 mph at Shreveport Regional Airport  and Laura toppled trees and downed power lines.

Miller said her family has power but that they’re the only ones in her area who do. “I don’t even know if we’re even supposed to still be in here because there’s a lot of water damage,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s going to turn into mold or anything, but we got nowhere else to go.”

 

Miller said: “We don’t know what to do. We weren’t expecting a tree to fall into our house and there’s nowhere else we can go.”

In an interview this week with radio host Michael Echols, U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, who represents Northwest Louisiana, including Caddo Parish, said hurricane-strength winds at the Arkansas border are unheard of, and he advised Louisianians in areas that have not yet been approved for federal assistance to be patient.

“I was in five of my parishes yesterday in the city halls or disaster command centers with all my mayors and sheriffs and their emergency preparedness folk, reminding everybody that we have to document carefully,” Johnson said. “This is the key. Because the FEMA uses these metrics…and they’re looking for structural damage. That’s supposed to be the litmus test. If you hit a certain limit, then you qualify for what we call Category A designation… (and) get all the federal reimbursement for everything.”

Johnson said documenting everything is “really important especially in our northern parishes and those that wouldn’t readily be obvious. You know, it’s a hurricane. Normally you think that’s associated with the coastal parishes, but this one went all the way up. We had (Category Two)  wind gusts speed in Union Parish. I mean, the Arkansas State line, we had a hurricane. It’s an unprecedented event … It’s just devastated certain parts of the state.”

Similar to Miller’s family in Shreveport, who’ve been living in a damaged home, Shykila Miles has been staying at her damaged house in Alexandria. She first spoke to a reporter Tuesday and expressed frustration that because she was in Rapides Parish, she didn’t qualify for aid from FEMA. When the storm passed to the west of Alexandria, a wind gust in the city was recorded at 86 mph. Almost all — 93 percent — of Rapides Parish residents lost power.

“They say ‘Alexandria is not in the terribly-hit zone,’ but I lost everything,” Miles said then. “I’m homeless. I’m sleeping on my front porch. It’s ridiculous.”  She’s had to shower and use the bathroom outside, she said, surrender her pets to the city pound and send her six children to live with extended family.

Late Tuesday night, Gov. Edwards office announced that Rapides Parish residents can now apply for FEMA aid. Miles said Wednesday that she would apply for it, but she’s still leaving.

Residents who qualify for disaster assistance from FEMA will be eligible for grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster, according to FEMA’s website.

Peter Robbins-Brown, communication director for the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, said that despite the governor’s promise of support, some Louisianians feel abandoned by their state.

“People are saying they feel like they’re completely on their own,” Robbins-Brown said. “No real coordinated support, not sure where to turn or who to turn to.”

 

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.

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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later NOLA.com) as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.

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