Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser is settling into a new role — one that other state leaders say he's uniquely qualified for — as Louisiana prepares for what is expected to be a long recovery from catastrophic flooding that has left 13 people dead and thousands displaced.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has tapped Nungesser, a Republican, to serve as a consultant of sorts for the 20 parishes that have received federal disaster declarations.
Nungesser knows a thing or two about disasters. He led Plaquemines Parish, at the state's southeastern tip, through five hurricanes and the BP oil spill crisis.
"I've been there before," Nungesser said recently of the new efforts he'll be undertaking. "Unfortunately, we've been through it in Plaquemines so many times."
In the coming weeks, Nungesser is planning stops in each of the flood-affected parishes to meet with local officials and give them one-on-one advice about better and faster recovery efforts.
"Hopefully, I can minimize the learning curve for officials who maybe haven't dealt with disaster recovery in the past," he said.
One of his goals will be helping local government navigate the often complex bureaucratic process and secure as much federal assistance as possible to aid the recovery efforts. Through his office, he'll also help coordinate volunteer efforts when federal assistance is not available.
The floods ravaging south Louisiana are the largest natural disaster the American Red Cross …
"I'm more than happy to step up and help with anything," Nungesser said. "If I can be an asset, then I will be."
Louisiana's lieutenant governor typically serves as the head of the state's tourism efforts but has few other responsibilities, unless given them by the governor.
In the days since the flooding, Nungesser has set out with Edwards and other leaders on helicopter tours of flood-ravaged areas, visited shelters and joined regular briefings at the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
He was front and center when President Barack Obama arrived in Louisiana on Tuesday to see the flood damage firsthand, as well as when GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump visited Louisiana a few days earlier.
Edwards said he specifically reached out to Nungesser to take on the new role because of his track record of working with the federal government on disaster recovery efforts.
"Billy is an expert on that," Edwards said with a laugh during a recent meeting with local leaders from Iberville Parish. "If anyone knows how to get money out of the federal government, it's him."
Nungesser, who rode out Hurricane Katrina with his wife on their cattle ranch in Plaquemines Parish, was prompted to run for local office after he grew frustrated with the slow response to the 2005 storm — one of the nation's worst natural disasters.
The fallout from Katrina also spawned a near mythological story of how Nungesser, after he was elected parish president, fought FEMA for money to rebuild Port Eads, at the southern tip of the Mississippi River, after the storm. The federal agency reportedly offered less than $500,000. Nungesser repeatedly appealed and eventually traveled to Washington, D.C., to make his case. In the end, FEMA agreed to spend $12 million on the project.
Nungesser, who was sworn in as lieutenant governor in January, said he has been impressed by the quickness with which federal leaders responded to Louisiana's flood crisis over the past week — a stark contrast to the slow response in Katrina's wake.
Obama issued a federal disaster declaration and within days FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and Department of Homeland Security head Jeh Johnson were on the ground in Louisiana to see the flood-affected areas firsthand and begin a coordinated response.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to travel to Baton Rouge on Tuesday to view damage from …
"I've seen a whole change in working with FEMA," Nungesser said. " It's working a lot smoother now."
Nungesser said he has been using his experience to provide insight for local leaders.
During a meeting with leaders in Iberia Parish, New Iberia Mayor Hilda Curry expressed concern over a privately owned levee that was compromised by the flooding. She lamented that it likely wouldn't qualify for federal support because it wasn't a government-owned levee.
Nungesser said he spoke to her after the group discussion. He said he had gone through the same thing and figured out a way to get assistance for repairs. "Because it protects homes from flooding, it will be eligible," he said.
Only about one in eight businesses and residences in East Baton Rouge Parish is covered by f…
Nungesser said he also has been stressing the need to document roads that have flooded.
"A lot of (officials) don't know there is money available for submerged roads because they will break up and crumble a lot sooner" after being flooded, he said.
An independent analysis of the flood damage estimates that more than 145,000 homes, valued at $30.4 billion, could have been affected by the floods in the Baton Rouge area. Just 15 percent of homes in the affected areas carried flood insurance.
Although a federal aid program to help disaster victims can provide as much as $33,000 per h…
The Advocate's analysis of payouts in high-profile disasters found that although a federal disaster aid program can provide as much as $33,000 per household, grants typically were a fraction of that amount, averaging $8,000 or less.
Nungesser said that may come as a shock to some flood victims. But he has experience with that as well. When Hurricane Isaac flooded Plaquemines' east bank in 2012, few people had flood insurance.
Nungesser said more people will need aid in the form of volunteers. He said his office will be working with groups to put together lists of people and properties that need help as volunteers from across the state and country look for ways to help.
"We'll have the volunteers out there to help gut homes and help rebuild," Nungesser said.