Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Still flooding

The flood is still making its way down toward the lakes today. As it does, more communities come under threat.
GRAMERCY, La. -- With the possibility of flooding, many said they aren't taking any chances.
"I don't want to get stuck in my house with water up to my chest with my kids,” said Chanda Waguespack. “I'd rather be safe than sorry."

At sandbagging distribution sites, bags were filled by the hundreds. One-by-one people came.

"I'm getting some for myself and I know some people who might need them, some relatives,” Terreke Grover. “You can never fully prepare, just like anything else you need to go with it and see how it goes."

NOLA.com is maintaining a list of ways you can help. There are many. Whether it's donating your time or supplies or non-perishable food or whatever money you can spare, please consider giving what you can. Most of us remember what this was like after Katrina. We're talking about devastation on a similar scale here. Much of what comes next will no doubt look familiar.

This week the President declared a major federal disaster covering over a dozen parishes. Here is what that means.
In Louisiana, emergency declarations were called for hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav and Isaac, as well as the explosion of the Columbia space shuttle in 2003, in which some debris fell on Louisiana. In all, presidents have called for 11 federal disasters in the state since 1977, including one ahead of floods in February and March this year.

A "major disaster declaration" is much broader and much more common in Louisiana. This uncorks federal cash to help with the most expensive part of any disaster -- the recovery. Aid comes in two forms: Public assistance covers costs incurred by governments and agencies responding to a disaster, and individual assistance for residents, families and businesses.

There have been 63 major disaster declarations in Louisiana, starting with the May flood of 1953.

The frequency of total declarations - emergency and major disaster - puts Louisiana somewhere in the middle of the pack among states. California, for instance, has had 253 total declarations in that same timeframe — mostly floods, earthquakes and wildfires — while Delaware has had 21.

But Louisiana has averaged more than one disaster a year since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
Like I said, it's a familiar situation.  Next comes the challenge, not only of distributing immediate aid to victims, but getting them through the months and years long process of recovery.  That begins with registering for assistance through FEMA. As of this morning, over 40,000 people had already applied. That number will only grow. Many of them will need housing.
Remember the infamous FEMA trailer from Hurricane Katrina? The white-paneled, cramped travel trailers that thousands were placed in following the 2005 storm? The trailers that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eventually determined had contained potentially hazardous levels of formaldehyde?

FEMA leaders say any temporary housing units placed here in the wake of the flood that has led to disaster declarations for 20 parishes won't be anything like that.

"This is not the FEMA travel trailers," FEMA head Craig Fugate said on Tuesday. "If we need to bring in any kind of temporary housing units, they are better than they've ever been. They are all HUD approved."

Earlier this year, the federal government unveiled what it called the "new and improved" FEMA trailer, which is a bit roomier and includes fire sprinklers in all units.
In addition to the "new and improved" trailers, FEMA can also offer rent or hotel vouchers. Recall that, the last time around, this was a much more convoluted and maddening system than it should have been.
Nearly two months after Hurricane Katrina's mass migration, hundreds of thousands of people seeking long-term housing are learning the hard way that resettlement is not as simple as rental assistance. The Federal Management Emergency Agency provides families $2,358 intended to cover three months' rent, but has done virtually nothing to help them actually find permanent housing amid a dwindling supply of low-rent apartments in adopted hometowns across the South.

As a result, many of those struggling to escape emergency shelters and hotel rooms face a patchwork of disparate local programs. Depending on where they landed after the storm, evacuees may encounter useful city agencies readily handing out vouchers and advice, private aid groups of volunteers scrambling to keep up with demand, or little organized assistance whatsoever.
Many will also need apply for emergency unemployment benefits as well as disaster food stamps (DSNAP) which... well... already....  
The pre-registering process does not guarantee benefits, but is designed to save time, minimize long lines and prevent applicants from coming to registration sites without all necessary personal information.

Affected residents may pre-register here (though the website appeared to be out-of-service as of Monday afternoon) or pre-register by phone beginning Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 1-888-LA-HELP-U daily between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Applicants will need to give their name, social security number, date of birth for each household member, current address and parish of household, monthly income for each household member, and all checking, savings and cash on hand for each household member.

The Governor emphasized this week that it's important for evacuees to apply for assistance as soon as possible.  He didn't say this part but we learned the hard way last time that aid and sympathy for victims runs thin with time.

Meanwhile, a mini-controversy has developed over the question of whether or not there has been sufficient "national media coverage" of the flooding.  I'm not sure this is valid. For one thing, such coverage exists. The facts have been reported by most of the usual national news outlets in TV, print, internets, etc.  Clamoring for anything more only invites negative attention as combat political media go to make sport of the disaster. 

So if you want to hear conservative pundits and politicians argue that FEMA is too generous, go right ahead and demand more national attention.  If you'd like to hear Pat Robertson types talk about how God is angry at Louisiana or if you'd like to read David Brooks on North Baton Rouge's "blank slate" that's fine. Keep calling for more national press. Maybe you'd like to see the Presidential candidates get involved. I'm sure Donald Trump will have some helpful things to say.

If you'd prefer not to add that crap to the misery already in progress, though, maybe chill out with the press envy. Craig Fugate is here doing his job. The press is here reporting on it. That should be enough for now.

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