A fallen tree rests on the home of an elderly Wilson resident Aug. 30. The tree was downed by winds from Hurricane Ida.

The impact of Hurricane Ida's ferocity on south Louisiana prompted a temporary change in how the Federal Emergency Management Agency considers reimbursing people for the purchase of generators and chain saws.

In most cases, such FEMA reimbursements are only available after a storm when someone is using life-supporting equipment, such as an oxygen tank or dialysis unit, that require electricity. This time, though, "outages are much more widespread and long-lasting," FEMA spokesperson Nate Custer said.

People who purchased or rented generators and/or chain saws in the days before and after Hurricane Ida's destruction, and suffered that destruction at their own homes, can apply for reimbursements of up to $800 for generators and up to $250 for chain saws.

Ida knocked out power for hundreds of thousands, and some outages remain and pose a threat to those who don't have a way to cool down. At least a dozen of the Louisiana deaths attributed to the storm were attributed to heat-related illnesses.

There are limits, so reimbursements are not automatic. The first three hurdles are:

  • Residency in one of 25 designated parishes
  • Insufficient or no insurance
  • Purchase occurs between Aug. 26 and Sept. 25

"The period ... starts Aug. 26, which is the date the National Hurricane Center issued its first advisory" for Ida, Custer said. The storm struck Aug. 29.

"The good news is that FEMA will reimburse those that purchased generators and chain saws before Hurricane Ida made landfall," U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said. 

Those who purchased generators or chain saws at the start of the season, or for a previous hurricane season, aren't eligible; Custer acknowledged that sometimes it's a gamble to know which storm will be the one to knock out power for days or weeks. Limiting the time window is intended to reduce fraud, Custer said.

Residents will need receipts for the purchases, and generators rented or purchased must been put to use during a power outage caused by the hurricane at the resident's home. Outbuildings, such as sheds, aren't included in the program.

Income isn't part of the criteria for eligibility, Custer said. 

"The reimbursement process is pretty straightforward," he said. "Just tell the person on the other end of the line what happened." 

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In cases where people have insurance coverage for purchases of generators and/or chain saws, FEMA "has to await insurance settlements, before we can act," Carter said. 

People are sometimes under-insured and may qualify for a combination of insurance payments and FEMA assistance, he said.

Demand for generators and chain saws was fierce in the days leading up to the hurricane and beyond, with long lines of waiting customers a familiar sight, Baton Rouge retailers said. 

Ernie Butitta, the manager of the family-owned K&D Rent All and Hardware Store on Old Hammond Highway in Baton Rouge said the 24 generators the store had on hand in late August "were gone before the storm hit."

The generators range in price from $689 to $12,000, Butitta said. Deliveries of additional generators are occasionally delayed.

Generators, like other appliances, have suffered manufacturing and transportation delays during the Covid-19 pandemic, Butitta said.

"Every storm is different," he said. "The demand for generators is similar to Hurricane Gustav, but with this storm, availability is nonexistent almost."

Parker Lombard, store manager of the Home Depot on Coursey Boulevard in Baton Rouge, said that many customers have driven up from New Orleans and LaPlace for generators and chain saws. Power outages remain worse down the river.

"Local customers have moved on to materials for repairs to roofs and fencing," he said.

Parishes eligible for the FEMA reimbursements are: Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes.

Homeowners can register for assistance by going online to DisasterAssistance.gov, downloading FEMA's mobile app or calling the FEMA Helpline at (800) 621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585).

The phone lines are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central time, seven days a week. Those who use 711 or Video Relay Service may call (800) 621-3362.

Email Ellyn Couvillion at ecouvillion@theadvocate.com.