FEMA administrator convenes with local officials on Ida recovery; Meeting emphasizes need for temporary housing, future mitigation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 3, 2021

LULING — Temporary housing and mitigation efforts were top of mind for Hurricane Ida recovery as FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell convened with St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard and St. Charles Parish President Matt Jewell Monday afternoon in Luling.

Also present was GOHSEP Acting Director Casey Tingle, who shared that over 2,000 travel trailers have been purchased for the state’s new non-congregate sheltering program. The state has deployed approximately 338 of those units, and 158 families were residing in the units as of November 1.

“That’s not where we need to be. We need to continue to make more progress, but it’s considerable progress for a brand-new program over the last four weeks,” Tingle said.

According to Tingle, a majority of the travel trailers are being deployed to areas of greatest need in Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. John and St. Charles parishes. A few are going to Jefferson Parish’s coastal areas, and the state is working on some in St. James and Plaquemines parishes as well.

Bringing direct housing assistance to thousands of local families could take months, Criswell said. She pointed to the state’s program and FEMA’s transitional sheltering assistance as short term solutions to bridge the gap until direct housing is more widely available to residents.

During her meeting with local parish presidents, Criswell recounted the scope of Hurricane Ida’s impact and presented it as an opportunity to “build back better” with more resilient infrastructure and revamped storm mitigation strategies.

Ida ravaged Southeast Louisiana with upwards of four hours of sustained Category Four wind over land and roughly 24 hours of tropical storm force winds.

“We had a very productive meeting, and I want to remind everyone that Hurricane Ida was an extremely powerful storm. It went from a tropical wave to a category four hurricane and made landfall within 72 hours, which didn’t give the parish presidents much time to really prepare and warn their residents here,” Criswell said. “This is the type of storm that we’re going to continue to see because of climate change.”

She continued, “We can’t just keep rebuilding from the types of storms we’ve experienced in the past. We have to rebuild for the types of storms that we think we are going to see in the future. We’re seeing these storms intensify rapidly and stay on land even longer.”

Parish President Hotard said St. John Parish will need FEMA’s assistance for flood mitigation efforts and elevation projects to protect homes and businesses from future events.

“I thank our residents for their resiliency. We’ve done this before with Hurricane Isaac, we’re doing it again, and we do believe this is an opportunity for us to build back stronger. I look forward to working to see that get done in St. John the Baptist Parish,” Hotard said.

Parish President Jewell agreed that it is critical to examine mitigation and flood policies.

“We also talked about Risk Rating 2.0, which I know a lot of residents in St. Charles Parish are looking at and are concerned with as we look to the future of flood insurance policies in coastal Louisiana,” Jewell said. “I am continuing to work with FEMA and administrator Criswell to make sure that those policies don’t cripple or kill our coastal communities.”

Debris collection has been a highlight of Hurricane Ida recovery over the past 60 days in the River Region. Jewell reported that St. Charles Parish has picked up more than 950,000 cubic yards of debris, and that figure is expected to surpass 1 million cubic yards by the end of the week.

Similar debris collection results have been seen in St. John Parish. By October 30, 766,000 cubic yards and almost 14,000 loads of debris had been collected, enough to fill 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools from end-to-end.

Debris collection is a continued focus seven days a week as residents continue working on their homes.

“Upwards to 80% of the debris has been removed already, and we’re only 60 days out from the storm. That’s incredible progress,” Criswell said.