In flood-ravaged Central, Mayor Jr. Shelton wonders whether his constituents will come back.
"We've got subdivisions that are decimated," he told the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge in a wide-ranging address Tuesday afternoon.
The city has about 28,000 people; the floods touched 27,000, the mayor said.
In addition to their homes, the water destroyed Central's mom-and-pop businesses. Shelton said he knows of at least two restaurants unlikely to return.
Central was the twelfth most populous municipality in Louisiana, but it's unclear where it will land once residents decide on long-term housing solutions.
Shelton is worried that those who do return will face challenges deciding how to elevate their homes.
"We won't get out of houses being raised, but we don't know how high they're gonna (need to) be raised," the mayor explained in an interview.
He worries that people may repair their homes, then be forced to undo some of the work because they will be required to elevate, adding to the cost of rebuilding.
The city government is researching the possibility of giving sales tax rebates to people who are buying vehicles to replace ones lost in the flood, Director of Economic Development Amanda Moody wrote in an email. Permitting fees will also be waived to rebuilding property owners who present insurance or FEMA claim information.
Last week the city started emergency debris collection but had only two trucks. Shelton said the city has been fighting bureaucracy to start regular debris pickup and hopes to sign a contract with Crowder Gulf on Wednesday. Details of the contract were not available Tuesday.
Shelton's remarks were not all gloom and logistics, though. He said that faced with destruction, he saw service and sacrifice all around him, from the firefighters who left their own homes to help others to the school employees who cared for evacuees in the shelter at Central Middle to the sailors of the "Cajun Navy" who ran private rescue missions.
"Had it not been for those civilians and their boats, we would have had major deaths," Shelton said.
Someone always seemed to step up when people in the shelter needed a meal.
"Food is the one thing that we never know how it's going to be handled every day," but "like manna from heaven" lunch and dinner always arrived somehow, Shelton said.
"Jesus is working in Central, folks," he concluded.
The Chamber, which includes many people from the east side of the parish, had low turnout Tuesday, and many of those who did attend shared the damage to their homes and businesses.
Scott Wilfong owns the Innovative Pre-owned car lot on Florida Boulevard, not far from the Amite River. His whole inventory has been reduced to scrap metal. A mechanic tried to restart one car, but it just sparked an electrical fire.
Wilfong is looking at his options, such as a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, as he tries to rebuild.
Kristi Cooper described damage that has entered into the absurd. A relative's boat floated into a tree. The river flooded her ceiling, and her family found band-aids stuck to a wall just under the crown molding.