CROZIER, Louisiana, Oct. 5 (Reuters) – Bruce Westley stood outside his crumbling mobile home, gesturing to a small lime-green tent, two patio chairs and a 30-quart aluminum pot atop a single propane burner .
âFor over a month this has been our bedroom, our living room and our kitchen,â said the 65-year-old disabled Navy veteran. He and his wife Christina are among thousands of struggling Southeast Louisians more than a month after Hurricane Ida swept through the heart of Cajun country.
Reuters has scoured the bayous of the hard-hit parishes of Terrebonne, Lafourche, Jefferson and Plaquemines in recent days, speaking to more than 40 residents. All said they felt abandoned by state and federal authorities. A few said that they had not received any kind of support from any level of government.
âWe can’t go on living like this,â Westley said. “We just need anything to get off the ground, man.”
In most areas, it looked like Ida had crossed over only a day or two ago. Elders who say they’ve seen it all swear they’ve never witnessed a more destructive storm.
A spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said the agency was working as quickly as possible. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday announced a FEMA-backed temporary accommodation program that he said would begin bringing trailers to the hardest hit areas to ease the housing shortage.
Human misery and piles of debris testify to the massive pressure on public and private resources in a hurricane-prone area. The scenes also raise questions about how the United States will cope as climate change creates a new, more destructive normal.
Reuters did not see any heavy equipment, trucks or workers helping people clear the rubble and recover their belongings. The only government presence was in the form of law enforcement officers and FEMA mobile center staff dealing with disaster claims. Residents said this has mostly been the case since Ida made landfall on August 29 and killed 26 people, although roads in the area have been largely cleared of debris.
Hundreds of people, many of them elderly and children, were in tents. Others were in homes that clearly had severe structural damage and where mold, which can impact respiratory health and cause severe allergic reactions, was spreading.
Grocery stores, most restaurants and other businesses remain closed. Electricity is still cut for thousands of people and many do not have water or sewer services.
Despite the difficulties, the communities are trying to come together. Outside Howard Third Zion Travelers Baptist Church, just two blocks from where Westley and his wife are camping, volunteers say they have distributed meals to 1,000 families a day. Ida destroyed the south wall of the church.
âDo you want to know what happened to help these people? Virtually nothing,â said Talisa Clark, a historically black zone community activist who helped coordinate the food distribution. âThere are no state or federal boots on the ground to help. It sounds like a third world countryâs efforts here.â
Clark was forced to leave her badly damaged home near Houma and stayed with relatives.
Parish authorities in Terrebonne, Lafourche, Jefferson and Plaquemines did not respond to a request for comment.
John Mills, spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at a support site in Golden Meadow, Louisiana, said he understood the frustrations of those who survived Ida.
âFamilies and communities will face tough choices about how to rebuild – and whether to rebuild here at all,â he said.
FEMA distributes money so that people can rent housing for at least two months. In addition, on Monday, FEMA said it was paying hotel costs to nearly 8,000 families. In total, he estimates he spent at least $ 30 million on hotel costs.
“This plan probably works in most circumstances. But the extent of Ida’s damage is so enormous that there is no housing stock, there are no available hotel rooms,” said Tanner Magee, a representative of the state whose district includes the parish of Terrebonne.
State and parish governments have outsourced the task of picking up the debris, but have even struggled to decide where to drop it, Magee said. He said many more workers and trucks were needed in the hard-hit areas.
Magee and her family, who live in Houma, stay in her house damaged by Ida.
âIf you constantly see this destruction around you and it’s not going anywhere, it hits people,â Magee said. “I am really worried about people’s mental health.”
Magee and others say they need FEMA temporary trailers. FEMA says it takes several weeks and is complicated by federal and state regulations that make it difficult to install temporary shelters during hurricane season.
FEMA, along with the Small Business Administration, has paid more than $ 1.1 billion for damages caused by Ida so far, mostly through homeowner grants, as well as the National Flood Insurance Program. from FEMA. Estimates of uninsured damage stand at more than $ 19 billion, according to real estate data and analysis firm CoreLogic, with 90% of those losses along the Louisiana coast and the rest in Alabama and the United States. Mississippi. There could be another $ 21 billion in damage to insured properties.
In Galliano, Maria Molina hand washed shirts and shorts for her daughter Julia, 7, and her adult son Leonardo; she then hung them up to dry.
“I have no more work, I have no more money and we have no more food. We have nowhere to go, even though this caravan seems dangerous,” she told About his blue mobile home, which was now akilter with a damaged roof and foundation.
Molina was waiting to see if she would qualify for FEMA assistance.
Down the street in the town of Golden Meadow, Rosie Verdin, 73, stood on the sloping porch of her home behind the tribal headquarters of her United Houma Nation.
Verdin said Ida’s destruction was the worst she had seen. Three quarters of his tribe’s 19,000 members have seen their homes destroyed or left uninhabitable.
âBut nothing will drive us out of this land,â she said. “With or without help, we will rebuild and stay here.”
Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Donna Bryson and Aurora Ellis
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