After Water Clean Up in Louisiana, Damage Remains

Flood restoration

Water clean up efforts in Louisiana are mostly complete after historic floods in the southern part of the state, but the water damage clean up has only just begun — and it may be a longer road to recovery than anyone previously thought.

More than 134,000 households have applied for aid from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Association. About 115,000 inspections have been completed so far. The organization is having trouble keeping up with demand for temporary shelter and assistance.

FEMA estimates that there has been $8.7 billion in damages because of the flooding in Louisiana. That’s over half the amount of total home flooding losses in the entire year of 2015 ($16.1 billion) or 2014 ($15.3 billion).

Part of the issue is that many homeowners didn’t have flood insurance, since they lived in areas that haven’t flooded in over 100 years. But changing climates and the force of the water intrusion made these historic floods much worse than anyone could have rightly anticipated.

Dealing with the water clean up means gutting thousands of homes and treating them for mold removal. Mold can pose serious health risks, including respiratory problems, cough, congestion, and headaches. However, since so many people haven’t been able to yet receive assistance from FEMA, they continue on living in their mold-infested homes.

“The vulnerable population — the elderly, the poor, the disabled — many of them are scared to come out of their house and get it gutted because they’re afraid they’re not going to get back in,” said Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who has been assisting with water clean up efforts. “It’s fear of the unknown: if they can’t fill the gap between what FEMA is offering and what it costs to get back into their home.

“Some of them, that’s where they’d rather be, in their house, even with the mold in it,” Honore continued. “But they’re going to get sick,” he said. “They’re going to get sick, and they’re going to die.”

Louisiana may get some extra help from the federal government to get back on its feet. The spending bill currently being deliberated in Congress could send additional funds to relief efforts in Louisiana, but it has been deadlocked in the Senate for weeks now.