Louisiana residents are sleeping in tents because of damaged housing, lawmaker says

About 13,000 homes in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes have been destroyed

By: - September 20, 2021 6:54 pm

A fallen tree on a home following Hurricane Ida. (Photo by JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator.

Lafourche and Terrebonne parish residents displaced by Hurricane Ida have been sleeping in tents and “using the rubble to build their own sort of makeshift structure” since the storm made landfall last month, said Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee during a legislative hearing Monday. 

“And when I say tent, I’m not talking about like some army tent, I’m talking the Walmart variety tent that you had in your house,” said Magee, a Republican who represents Terrebonne and Lafourche. “That’s what they’re living in.”

About 13,000 homes in Louisiana’s Bayou region have been destroyed, including 60 percent of homes in south Terrebonne Parish, he said. 

“We’re hearing from Lake Charles that they spent a year (after Hurricanes Laura and Delta) without temporary housing, I don’t know how that’s anything less than a humanitarian crisis,” Magee said.

The Legislature’s Joint Commerce Committee met Monday to discuss updates on Hurricane Ida damage in Southeast Louisiana as well as the ongoing issues such as housing, power and phone service.

Hundreds of renters in Houma were told without warning that they’re being evicted from their apartments due to storm damage after Ida. One resident said her apartment complex told their residents that they had less than two weeks to move out “or all your stuff will be thrown out.”

Magee said those apartment complexes were “bad actors.”

“There are no hotels. New Orleans is booked. St. Mary Parish is booked,” he said. “So, when these people get kicked out, there’s literally no place to go.”

Tammy Esponge, with the Apartment Association of Louisiana, said they offered guidance to apartment complexes that are severely damaged or uninhabitable after the storm “to give residents a reasonable amount of time to allow those residents to find a place to go.”

“What these owners are doing, aside from not following guidance, it’s unfortunate,” Esponge said.

“This is something that has to be corrected,” Magee said. “I cannot continue to drive down to Terrebonne Parish and see firemen living in tents where the fire station is because they have no roof or only have three walls.”

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Legislators threaten to end contract with AT&T following service failures after Ida

Several other lawmakers were also frustrated at AT&T.

Just 60 percent of AT&T’s network in Louisiana was working the day after Ida pummeled the state. The down phone network made it difficult for residents and hundreds of government officials to communicate with each other in the aftermath of the storm. 

The Louisiana state government contracted with AT&T to provide phone service for its 911 communications and first responders, so many state emergency services couldn’t be reached “when many of these numbers were needed most,” Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-New Orleans, said.

Joe Mapes, a lobbyist for AT&T, was sent to testify for the telecommunications company at the hearing, but couldn’t respond to many of the lawmakers’ questions.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) told Mapes that “it’s very disrespectful” for AT&T to be in “avoidance mode” when they have a contract with the state “to provide for a basic service.”

“We’re talking about something fundamental, life and death,” Peterson said, “That’s not fair. Why do you still have the contract?”

Peterson told Mapes that if no one from AT&T got back to them today, “My recommendation is going to be for the Division of Administration to cancel the FirstNet contract with AT&T, and do an emergency contract in the next 48 hours.”

“We are still in the middle of hurricane season,” she said.

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Entergy’s $2.1 billion hurricane costs passed onto customers

Damages from Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta in 2020 combined cost Entergy Louisiana $2.1 billion — a bill that the company wants to pass along to their customers in additional charges.

“To the extent that Southwest Louisiana was hit very hard last year, our entire customer base will be picking that up,” Mark Kleehammer, the vice president of regulatory and public affairs for Entergy Louisiana, said.

Entergy is looking to get approval from the Public Service Commission on a $5 additional charge on customers’ monthly bills statewide for the next 15 years to pay for the company’s hurricane damages last year. That doesn’t even include damage from Hurricane Ida, which hit in August. 

Rep. Bryan Fontenot,R-​​Thibodaux, said Entergy’s shareholders should use a percentage of their profits to shoulder the burden of damages instead of just passing the costs along to customers.

“It’s easy to be in business when you can just pass the costs off and not absorb the damages,” he said.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and 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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