Federal agencies have moved to provide assistance to people in flood-battered Louisiana. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is leading the federal effort, has authorized and distributed $127 million as of Aug. 23, the agency said.
That includes $107 million in FEMA grants to those in the flooded areas, to help them with costs of temporary rental housing, home repairs and other needs. FEMA says more than 110,000 people and households have registered with it for aid so far.
Dan Mobley, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Louisiana, says that housing money is starting to flow. But he adds, "I don't think people understand the gravity of the situation nor the amount of devastation that we've had in south Louisiana right now."
Mobley says 40,000 to 50,000 homes were flooded to varying degrees, as were churches, courthouses and other government buildings. The women's prison in St. Gabriel "still has almost chest-high water in some areas," he said in an Aug. 26 interview with ENR.
In addition, Mobley says, "We have a lot of schools that went under water—some of them only had a few inches; some of them had five [or] six feet."
An Aug. 21 analysis by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, a regional economic development group, indicates that 41.5% of homes in the city's nine-parish metro area—as many as 110,000 with a value of about $20.7 billion—are in areas that flooded, as are nearly 12,000 businesses, making up 35% of the region's total. That total includes 1,165 construction businesses with more than 12,300 employees.
It says about 1,000 sq miles in the region had flooded and that only 15% of homeowners across the parishes have flood insurance.
But BRAC noted in a statement that the analysis, based on geographic information system data from the Stephenson Disaster Management Institute at Louisiana State University and the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, was not clear on the severity of flood damage and it not specify actual damage dollar estimates.
The group also said it has information on and links to key resources for affected individuals, institutions and businesses on a disaster response web page.
Reuters reported on Aug. 17 that ExxonMobil had delayed a shut down of a major refinery in Baton Rouge, but that the facility was operating at just 60% of capacity. Citing sources,the news agency also said that Motiva Enterprises had cut production at its refinery in Convent, La., when a 45,000 barrel-per-day heavy oil hydrocracker was shut by a large fire on Aug. 11.
President Obama, traveling to Baton Rouge on Aug. 23, called the flood “historic” and said that “what I want the people of Louisiana to know is that you’re not alone on this.”
Obama added, "Even after the TV cameras leave, the whole country is going to continue to support you and help you until we get folks back in their homes and lives are rebuilt."
As of Aug. 24, he had signed disaster declarations for 20 Louisiana parishes, which permits federal aid to be distributed in those areas.
The president said that FEMA “has enough money for now to cover the costs that can be absorbed.” But he added, “The issue is going to be less what we need to do in terms of paying for the short term. it’s going to be the medium-term and the long-term rebuilding."
That could require asking Congress to approve additional funds for FEMA, which it could deploy in Louisiana. Obama noted that the House and Senate will return to session after Labor Day and added that, by that point, federal officials are likely to have better estimates of rebuilding and recovery costs.
Besides FEMA, other agencies also are taking action. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation announced on Aug. 18 that it has made $2 million in Federal Highway Administration emergency-relief funds available to Louisiana to assist with road and bridge repairs. That aid all will help stabilize transportation structures to guard against further damages until permanent repairs can be carried out.
DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement, “We are doing everything we can at the U.S. DOT to help.” FHWA Administrator Gregory Nadeau added that the $2 million in funds “represent the first installment of federal resources available to Louisiana to reopen all roads.”
According to U.S. DOT, the long-term cost for flood-related repairs in Louisiana is estimated at more than $10 million.
Mobley says that Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson said in a recent conference call, "Rail was OK. Ports were OK." Mobley added, "Many of our roads were overtopped. And on some of the areas, the water stayed on them for an extended period of time—in fact, some of them [as of Aug. 26] are still under water."
Mobley said, "We know that probably has to some degree eroded away the base and work will have to be done to them." He also said that debris pushed against some bridges and "moved the base of them."
Mobley says some ACEC of Louisiana member firms have been retained to monitor FEMA contracts to other companies to remove debris. He also says DOTD's Wilson had indicated that contracts for post-flood engineering and reconstruction aren't imminent but also said, "We know [projects] are going to come your way when we're going to need you."
The Louisiana DOTD said it has done more than 1,200 bridge inspections. DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett said via email that, as of Aug. 24, six bridges were out of service statewide. Those bridges were awaiting emergency repairs. Mallett added that none of the six was on an Interstate or major arterial.
DOTD had said on Aug. 20 that all of the state’s Interstate highways were open.
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Dept. is coordinating a federal housing recovery effort in the region, to provide aid in rehabilitating and reconstructing housing that was destroyed or damaged and to develop new permanent housing, the White House said.
The federal Small Business Administration as of Aug. 23 had processed 1,270 applications for disaster loans and approved $9.4 million in such loans as of that date to individuals and businesses, according to FEMA.
Story updated on Aug. 26 with comments from ACEC of Louisiana and information from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.