The damage and scope of last week’s flooding across Louisiana has been both record breaking and in many ways unprecedented, Gov. John Bel Edwards reiterated in a news conference on Thursday where he was joined by the top federal disaster recovery administrator in the country.
But to make matters worse, many of the people impacted by the recent rising waters didn’t have insurance because floods had never before touched their properties.
“This is a record-breaking flood event with floodwater all over the state of Louisiana, reaching places it’s never been before,” Edwards said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, in town from Washington, D.C., said authorities are working to assist people in need as quickly as possible. To date, he said $2.5 million has been paid out in flood insurance claims.
So far, officials have identified about 12,000 homes with reports of water damage across the state. Another 1,200 private residences, which make up second homes or businesses, and 13 public facilities, including Grambling State University and Southeastern Louisiana University, had damage from flooding.
Of those, only 3,600 flood insurance claims have been filed in Louisiana.
But all of these numbers are expected to grow, as officials are still calculating the damage and waters in some areas have yet to recede.
“We know some people’s homes are still underwater,” Fugate said. “Other areas are still at risk.”
So far, 26 parishes have been added to the list of federally declared disaster areas, and 11 more are being monitored to determine if they should be added. The declaration means residents and businesses are eligible for federal disaster aid.
The most recent additions were Allen, Ascension and Calcasieu parishes, which, alone, had some 900 homes damaged by high water, Edwards’ office said Wednesday.
To date, the disaster has cost state agencies $9.1 million, but federal dollars are expected to reimburse the state 75 percent. Louisiana’s share so far is $2.3 million, which will be funded out of the budget stabilization fund. These numbers are changing rapidly and expected to increase, said Cody Wells, spokesman for the Division of Administration. Of those funds, $1.5 million has gone toward the State Military Department for the deployment of some 700 national guardsmen.
Edwards and Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser have traveled the state meeting with families in affected areas. On Thursday, they said they were concerned by the number of people they spoke with who didn’t have flood insurance.
Edwards said they didn’t have data about what percentage of affected residents had flood insurance. But anecdotally, he said, the majority of those he spoke with recently were not covered and had never before been victim of flooding.
“I spoke to a couple hundred home owners, and very few of them had flood insurance,” Edwards said. “I was in Merryville on Sunday and met a couple who was 86 years old. They’d lived in their home for 50 years and never had water approach their home before, but their home was probably totally destroyed by this particular incident.”
It was a sentiment echoed by the Washington Parish Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Thomas Thiebaud.
“We actually had over 500 homeowners call in their damage, and the majority of them were saying, ‘No, we don’t have flood insurance because I don’t live in a flood zone, and it’s not required, and I’ve never seen flooding before,’ ” Thiebaud said in a phone interview. “I had a lady the other day who lived in the same house for 91 years and never had water, but she has water now.”
At the press conference, Fugate noted that regular homeowners’ insurance rarely includes flood coverage. People who live in flood zones are required to purchase the additional coverage, and people who don’t live in flood zones rarely opt for the additional coverage because they don’t think they are at risk.
He encouraged homeowners who don’t live in flood areas to consider purchasing the additional coverage.
“Don’t look at the risk area, look at can you afford to not have flood insurance,” Fugate said, adding that flood insurance for people who don’t live in high-risk zones is typically about $300 to $400 for maximum coverage.
He said people with flood insurance need to call their adjusters right away. For those who aren’t covered, FEMA offers disaster loans and grants to homeowners and businesses in need of recovery funds.
Grants are offered only for those who cannot afford to pay back a loan. The grants can reach as high as $32,000 but average between $5,000 and $7,000 per applicant and are based on need.
Fugate stressed that people register their claims quickly so FEMA can fully assess the needs and impact of the state, by calling (800) 621-FEMA or visit disasterassistance.gov.
Nungesser added that volunteerism would be necessary to help fill the gaps left by insurance and federal aide.
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