A term of art at the Federal Emergency Management Agency is “long-term recovery.” In Louisiana, because of our vast experience with hurricanes and floods, we know that the emphasis there is “long.”
For the southwestern parts of Louisiana, long-term recovery is the phase of reaction to hurricanes Laura and Delta, back-to-back storms that added to the economic and social afflictions visited upon our state during 2020.
While debris clearing and restoration of utility services are, in some areas, mostly in the rear-view mirror, storm damage is ever-present in the region around Lake Charles. Daily life is still a struggle as many stores and other needed services are not open, and there are long lines at those available. Many homes and apartments remain uninhabitable.
While flood damage caused so much misery in 2005 with hurricanes Katrina and Rita, this year’s storms were heavy hits because of wind damage. Laura as a Category 4 hurricane was one of the worst ever to hit the United States.
The misery it inflicted is still very much top-of-mind in the region, but the good news is that help continues to arrive from other parts of Louisiana — basics like meals and other direct aid — but also with philanthropic donations.
In the dozen gifts for Louisiana from MacKenzie Scott, from the Amazon fortune, the $5 million for the United Way of Southwest Louisiana is a huge benefit during the holiday season. There are few places in America that need such a tremendous infusion of aid this year more than the five parishes around Lake Charles.
But the FEMA distinction between emergency relief and long-term recovery is still an important issue for the region in 2021.
Long-term recovery includes rebuilding and restoring public schools and other facilities damaged by Laura’s incredible winds. By its nature, that work takes a long time.
By its nature, it’s also bureaucratic work, although because of the magnitude of the Katrina and Rita disasters, that process is probably a good bit easier for local governments and the nonprofit sector. Laws and regulations have been improved, but one of the things needed in 2021 in our worst-hit region is that Louisiana’s delegation in Congress continues to ride herd on the regs and financial difficulties of steering aid to the right places.
Our delegation — including even the newest member, Luke Letlow of northeastern Louisiana, a former staffer in Congress — is wise in the ways of post-storm bureaucratic difficulties. We are confident that Laura/Delta aid will be a key priority in the months and years — not days — of the long-term recovery process.
One example: U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, leveraged one of his subcommittee assignments on the Judiciary Committee to help expedite rebuilding of the federal courthouse in Lake Charles. In a hundred ways, for large projects and small, that will have to be repeated for long-term recovery from Laura and Delta to be a success.