Federal $$$ not likely in St. James plans

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, June 3, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

CONVENT — Federal state-of-emergency funding help will not likely be available for the more than 116 homes and dozen businesses flooded following the torrential rainfall that inundated the River Region, especially St. James Parish, May 27 and 28.

St. James Parish President Timothy Roussel said for Louisiana to declare a state of emergency, the monetary damage threshold must reach $6 million.

“We are nowhere near the $6 million from what I understand,” Roussel said. “Of course, we are still calculating as people turn in their information. We did declare (a state of emergency) in the parish and hopefully that, in and of itself, will help our residents get quicker responses from the insurance companies.”

Parish impact

The National Weather Service reported 17 inches of rain fell over St. James Parish in a three-day period, 15 inches of rain over a 48-hour period and 13 inches of rain on May 27.

“In one hour, we had seven inches of rain in the Lutcher-Gramercy-Paulina-area,” Roussel said. “According to what engineers are telling us, I don’t believe pumps have the capability of getting it up that fast.”

The result was at least 116 homes and residences took in water, as well as 10 to 12 businesses. Those numbers are expected to rise this week as more information is gathered.

The parish put together three assessment teams of two people each who visited all addresses that reported damages or problems.

“We have a lot of debris on the side of the roads that our parish crews have started removing,” Roussel said. “We, honestly, through the parish assessment teams, phone calls, emails and Facebook accounts, are learning more about problematic drainage issues, whether it’s plugged culverts or whatever the case may be.”

Anyone in St. James Parish that has not reported flood damage is asked to call 252-562-2200 and/or email flood@stjamesla.com to log their information.

Parish officials and law enforcement did not receive any reports of vandalism but were concerned with residents driving around after the storm.

“Whenever we have water of that magnitude on the streets, certainly we don’t want sightseers out there, because as a car is out there, they are pushing water into these businesses and residences,” Roussel said. “They’re making it a lot worse. We had to hurry up and close some of the local roads.”

School district

Summer school for St. James Parish Schools was delayed, starting Monday instead of May 29.

“The reason we really delayed is because we have several people who had been flooded, the streets weren’t great and we had to do some things to get ourselves in shape for our employees to deal with everything to start summer school,” Superintendent Lonnie Luce said.

The school district was spared large-scale damage, but water-related problems were reported at Lutcher High School in the auditorium and the seventh- and eighth-grade wing, as well as Gramercy Elementary School, which took on roof damage.

The pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade school that also houses the parish’s performing arts magnet program was the focus of discussion when the school board’s building committee met last week.

“At Gramercy, it is kind of a combination of things that was messed up with the roof and the design,” Luce said. “Our architects at the building committee actually agreed to pick up the tab for their expense on that particular thing.”

Red Cross

Spokeswoman Nancy Malone, with the Red Cross, said the disaster-relief organization’s staff members passed out 80 clean-up kits in St. James Parish that contained bleach, disinfectants, mops, brooms, sponges and similar items to help people quickly get on the ground and start cleaning.

“We also distributed bulk items, like tarps, gloves, trash bags, rain coats and insect repellent,” Malone said. “We gave out 300 of those items in St. James.”

More than five-dozen Red Cross staff members and volunteers were in the greater River Region, assessing damages and helping flood victims after the storm. Those who still need assistance are asked to call 1-800-256-4733.

“This disaster has really shown how important it is for us to have a relationship, a partnership already in place with government officials and leaders in the community,” Malone said. “We need volunteers more than ever. Life changes every year, and we always need more volunteers to come in and be trained so they are confident they can help to the best of their abilities.”