The federal government began accepting disaster recovery claims Thursday for residents and business owners who suffered property damage following torrential rain that washed across Louisiana last month.

President Joe Biden approved the state's request for federal support late Wednesday in response to a mid-May deluge that impacted nearly 3,000 homes across many areas in South Louisiana.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, more than 1,100 people reported damage from the storm, a city-parish spokesman said. Parts of the metro area were hammered by as much as 13.7 inches of rain during the heaviest downpours, which saw rapidly rising floodwaters seep into people’s homes.

At least five people died as a result of the rainy weather, according to state officials.

What type of assistance is available, and to whom?

The declaration allows residents to tap into federal relief under its "Individuals and Households Program," which includes direct services to individuals who are uninsured or underinsured. The aid is intended to help meet basic needs, including possibly:

  • Funds for temporary housing while you are unable to live in your home (either rental assistance or hotel reimbursements);
  • A temporary housing unit if there's a lack of available housing sources;
  • Funds to repair or replace owner-occupied homes that are a household’s primary residence, including driveways, roads, or bridges that provide access;
  • Funds for other needs, including repair or replacement of personal property and vehicles, money for moving and storage fees, medical, dental, child care, funeral, and other items if approved by the state government.

Victims fully covered by flood insurance will not be eligible for individual grants through FEMA, but the agency may offer loans for those who are underinsured. Low-interest disaster loans, known as SBA loans, are also available for people who do not qualify for FEMA grants.

Federal funding is available for people in Ascension, Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge, Iberville and Lafayette parishes who were impacted between May 17 and May 21. Gov. John Bel Edwards and members of Congress noted that the recent damaging weather in the Baton Rouge and Lake Charles areas followed last year’s destructive hurricane season, freezing temperatures in February and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also, up to $2 million in loans are available for small businesses, nonprofits and those in the aquaculture industry, even if there was no property damage. The coverage could be for any combination of property damage and working capital needs.

Grants and loans offered through FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration also can't be duplicated by costs insurance companies cover. 

How do I seek aid?

FEMA spokesman Stuart Lewis said people impacted by the storm should file flood insurance claims before registering their damages at disasterassistance.gov or by calling the agency. In the meantime, he said, people should also make copies of all pertinent material, including damage reports, contractor bids, insurance claims and receipts as they're cleaning up their property.

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“Documentation is the name of the game,” Lewis said. “It’s frankly better to have more documentation than not.”

For people still unable to assess their properties because of standing high water, FEMA officials said they may extend the application process for certain situations.

The agency typically fields claims 60 days after a disaster declaration's approval, but an exact deadline date hasn’t been determined. 

What other help might be had?

For some of the most vulnerable residents, additional help has come from a team of volunteers from the disaster-response nonprofit Team Rubicon USA.

The group has been fielding requests for help through the East Baton Rouge Parish Community Support Services 211 since deploying in the area. Much of their work lately has been helping people remove debris and tearing out soggy carpet and addressing other damages for residents who are unable to, such as the uninsured, the elderly and those with disabilities.

“Those are the folks we try to reach out most,” said Mike West, Team Rubicon’s task force leader.

So far, the team has helped about 10 people and has been asked to respond to nearly three dozen other residents needing help in the Baton Rouge area.

The team of volunteers plans to remain in the Baton Rouge area with a loose end date of June 24 that may be extended or shortened depending on people’s requests for help, West said.

Those needing help can call the city-parish 211 line or by calling Crisis, which can connect residents with Team Rubicon at 844-465-1386.

FEMA claims can also be submitted through the agency's mobile app or by calling 1-800-621-3362.


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad