Five days after a record-setting tornado devastated parts of New Orleans East, leaving dozens injured and damaging or destroying hundreds of homes, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Sunday he was issuing a "clarion call" for residents to pitch in with recovery efforts.
Flanked by other city, state and federal officials during a morning news conference at the Joe W. Brown Recreation Center, Landrieu said the area was no longer considered an "off-limits" zone.
"There was a time when I said do not come out to New Orleans East, and I said I was going to issue a clarion call for all volunteers to come out and help. I'm doing that now," Landrieu said.
"If we do that, we'll be that glorious city in the state of Louisiana that I talk about, where we reflect to the rest of America what it's like to help our neighbor who is in harm's way."
Among other efforts, Landrieu is asking volunteers to help clear debris from the impacted area. The city has set a 30-day timeline to complete the task, which will be done in three passes by the Department of Sanitation and volunteers from local, national, nonprofit and faith-based organizations.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond also called on those who do not live in the affected area to travel to New Orleans East and help with recovery efforts.
While praising President Donald Trump for a quick response in approving a federal disaster declaration for Orleans and Livingston parishes, Edwards said the state was still waiting to hear a response to its request for public assistance, which covers expenses incurred by governments.
The call for individual assistance was answered Saturday when Trump signed a state of emergency declaration a day after Edwards had requested it.
That means residents affected by the tornadoes can qualify to get up to tens of thousands of dollars in financial help for temporary housing, home repairs and other expenses.
"The other request is still pending, but turning on the individual assistance is incredibly important to people so we can get in the pipeline more resources to help," Edwards said.
Under the declaration, federal aid can be available for rental payments for temporary housing; grants for home repairs and to replace personal property; and help meeting medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other disaster-related needs not covered by insurance.
The aid could help with unemployment payments for up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and who do not qualify for state benefits, plus low-interest loans to cover residential damage or losses to small businesses.
Federal funding is available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.
William J. Doran III has been named the coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected areas.
Individuals and business owners who sustained losses can begin applying for assistance by registering online at disasterassistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
At least 700 homes were damaged in five Louisiana parishes during Tuesday's storms, including the EF3 that devastated a swath of New Orleans East, according to preliminary reports from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Thirty-nine people were injured in the various parishes, mostly in New Orleans, officials said.
On Sunday, Landrieu and Edwards answered their own calls for service by putting on gloves and hauling out debris from devastated homes in the 4600 block of Sandalwood Street.
"We were very prepared," Landrieu said as he pointed to city contractors and private volunteer groups working together to haul masses of wood, insulation, broken glass and warped metal from homes and yards to the curb.
Landrieu and Edwards were working alongside members of SBP, an organization founded in 2006 in St. Bernard Parish following Hurricane Katrina. SBP aims to shrink the time between disaster and full recovery by using an established, efficient model for rebuilding, according to co-founder and CEO Zack Rosenburg.
Other organizations also had gotten to work over the weekend after a City Hall spokeswoman said Friday that volunteers would be allowed into the area as long as they were working with a specific nonprofit group.
Some of the efforts were organized by Christopher Cameron, the executive director of HandsOn New Orleans, a group that partners with the United Way.
He said 300 people had signed up Saturday to clean up debris, pack items for storage and go house-to-house to assess residents' needs.
Other groups hosting volunteer events over coming weeks include City Church of New Orleans, Household of Faith in partnership with Samaritan’s Purse, the United Way of Southeast Louisiana and the Louisiana SPCA, according to the city's website.
City agencies, too, have been quick to respond, officials said.
The New Orleans Health Department, with support from the Red Cross, Catholic Charities and the Fire Department, has for days been helping residents at a temporary shelter set up at the Joe W. Brown Recreation Center.
A temporary distribution center was opened by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services at the East New Orleans Regional Library for storm victims who get public assistance and who lost food to the tornado.
Melonie Stewart, a customer service director with Entergy, announced Sunday that only 80 addresses in New Orleans East were still without power, down from 10,400 customers just after the tornado.
At their news conference, Edwards and Landrieu praised the thousands of volunteers as well as various city and state agencies that have been working overtime to get order restored in the hardest-hit areas.
"Recovery always takes longer than we want it to take," Edwards said. "But that does not mean we're not going to move heaven and earth to do everything we can."