Officials prepare for weekend rush at disaster aid centers in Ascension Parish _lowres


Finishing in about 15 minutes, Tami Sims made quick work Friday of the verification process for disaster food aid being offered after the heavy flooding last month in Ascension Parish.

Sims, 25, assistant manager of a Popeye’s restaurant, said floodwater reached the top step to her home in St. Amant when high water on the Amite River pushed through her area.

Though the inside of her home didn’t flood, the power was out and the water surrounding her home kept her from returning for three days while she stayed with family, she said.

“I lost all the food,” said Sims, the mother of a 5-year-old.

Sims is one of more than 270 people who showed up by mid-Friday afternoon at a Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program center in the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center gym near Gonzales.

The program serves low- to moderate-income residents who do not normally receive food assistance from the state. The one-time disaster aid averages about $300 per household.

Anthony Wilson, 47, a fry cook and food preparer at Logan’s Roadhouse, said he had a short wait Friday at the DSNAP in Gonzales.

“It was wonderful. In and out, man. They were so helpful, you know what I’m saying,” said Wilson, who arrived at the center after he got off work at 2 p.m.

Wilson, Sims and others benefited from the relatively light numbers who have shown up since Wednesday at the Lamar-Dixon gym — where dozens of state workers sat at folding tables with computers waiting to process claims. A nearby Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Recovery Center at the Lamar-Dixon 4-H building also has seen light traffic.

But Jean Guinta, a regional administrator for the state Department of Children and Family Services who was helping run the DSNAP in Gonzales, said Friday’s numbers were a little ahead of Wednesday’s and Thursday’s. Officials were preparing for a weekend rush before the center closes Sunday evening.

Guinta said she added 20 more computer stations Friday, bringing the total to 68, in anticipation of bigger numbers.

“I just don’t want to have big lines,” Guinta said Friday.

JoAnn Cook, the FEMA center manager at Lamar-Dixon, said about 80 people have showed up since Wednesday to register for disaster assistance — such as for damage to uninsured homes or those with insurance deductibles — but she also was expecting more people for the weekend. That center in Gonzales also closes Sunday.

Across the state for the past two weeks, DSNAP and FEMA recovery centers have opened up in the 30 parishes declared major disaster areas by President Barack Obama.

According to DCFS’s latest numbers through Thursday, the state has provided nearly $20.2 million in disaster food aid to more than 54,000 households across Louisiana.

FEMA registered 29,293 people in 30 parishes through Thursday and has given $52.3 million in grants, FEMA said.

Ouachita Parish in northeast Louisiana has the most registrants so far for FEMA aid: 8,793 people registered for $16.7 million in grants.

In southeast Louisiana, Tangipahoa Parish had the largest numbers registering for FEMA aid through Thursday: 3,861 registered for nearly $5.4 million.

That parish also had the most households anywhere in Louisiana receive disaster food aid so far: 8,953 households for $3.24 million.

Dawson Primes, director of the Tangipahoa Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said he wasn’t surprised. He called the flooding a significant event that well-surpassed Hurricane Isaac in 2012 — 18 inches of rain in 24 hours followed by backwater flooding on the Tangipahoa and other rivers.

“There are hundreds of homes that flooded for this event that didn’t flood for Isaac,” he said.

DSNAP centers in 23 parishes opened and closed last week, including in Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. Tammany. Centers in seven more parishes opened this week, including the one in Ascension. FEMA has 26 recovery centers open across the state, said Bob Howard, FEMA spokesman.

FEMA and DCFS officials urged residents Friday to pre-register before they show up at the Ascension or other FEMA recovery and DSNAP centers.

In Ascension, the food assistance is being offered to residents in six ZIP codes: 70725, 70734, 70737, 70769, 70774 and 70778.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.