Louisiana congressional leaders Monday asked federal officials to revise the criteria used for which parishes get temporary roofs after East Baton Rouge Parish and others were excluded from the assistance.
The request was made by U.S. Reps. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge; Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; Troy Carter, D-New Orleans; Clay Higgins, R-Lafayette; and Julia Letlow, R-Start, in a pointed letter to FEMA Administrator Deane Criswell.
A total of 15 parishes have been approved for the roofs, but 10 declared disaster areas after Hurricane Ida are left out, including East Baton Rouge Parish.
The 15 parishes approved for blue roofs are Ascension, Assumption, Jefferson, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Terrebonne.
"We are writing today to urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to re-evaluate its determination of eligibility for certain parishes for the Blue Roof program due to substantial damages from Hurricane Ida," the lawmakers said in their letter.
"The Blue Roof program is a vital tool in areas that have been impacted by major disasters because it protects homes that have been damaged until homeowners can schedule permanent repairs," they said. "Without access to a no-cost Blue Roof installation, homeowners in damaged areas in these parishes will have to seek out alternative housing arrangements and risk further damage to their properties."
"This not only displaces people from their communities by forcing them into temporary housing, but also drives up the cost of recovery."
Those declared disaster areas but excluded from the blue roofs are East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, St. Martin, St. Mary, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes.
In an interview, Graves said Monday he has traveled from Grand Isle to north of Baton Rouge to view hurricane damage and East Baton Rouge clearly needs access to the temporary roofs.
"FEMA is kind of neglecting us to some degree," Graves said.
The roofs are fiber-reinforced sheeting to protect homes until permanent repairs are made.
More than 35,000 households have applied for the roofs, a FEMA official said Monday.
But some Hurricane Ida survivors have questioned when the work will begin, and voiced frustrations about trying to get the help.
"There have been no installations yet but we anticipate the first one going in on Wednesday," FEMA said in a statement issued Monday. "However, there's a weather system coming through that might delay that plan."
Looming rain is exactly why some homeowners are getting anxious.
Federal officials said Tuesday they are assessing roof damages from Hurricane Ida before deciding whether to offer free "blue tarps" to homeow…
Ann Garvey, who lives in Lakeview, said Monday Hurricane Ida knocked off a few attachments on her roof "where rain would pour in and really cause damage. And there were a couple of other spots."
Garvey had no power at her home and tried to garner a blue roof by telephone.
"They said all our lines are busy, will call back within 48 hours," she recalled. "I never heard anything else."
Garvey, mindful of possible rain, bought her own tarp for $250 and hired a roofer to install it.
She is still grappling with rain that seeped in through windows, wet rugs and floors that may be damaged and just got her power back after an eight-day outage.
Carol Vernon, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Monday she understands the frustration of homeowners anxious to get the roofs attached.
"All I can tell them right now is that the installation of the blue roofs is really dependent on a few things," Vernon said. "The availability of material, which we have. The availability of contractors, and at this point we have that as well."
"And the third aspect is the weather," Vernon said. "It comes down to a safety issue too. If it is raining they are not going to go out."
Vernon said requests for the blue roofs may eventually total 70,000.
The roofs are intended for primary residences and permanently occupied rental property with less than 50% structural damage.
Vacation homes are not eligible.
Roofs that are flat or made of metal or clay slate or asbestos tile do not qualify.
The roofs are installed by contractors under the direction of the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA.
Residents can apply at blueroof.us or by calling (888) 766-3258.
However, that telephone line was down Monday for a time because of what federal officials called a provider issue.
Tangipahoa Parish President Robby Miller said he believes his parish has enough tarps and is pushing them out through Louisiana National Guard-run distribution sites and rural fire departments.
Those are temporary tarps, however, and he urged residents to apply for the Blue Roof program for more permanent tarps for their damaged roofs.
“That’s going to be a more permanent, still temporary, but more permanent than the tarps that we put up on our own,” Miller said in a news conference Monday.
Staff writer David Mitchell contributed to this report.