GRAMERCY — Officials in St. James Parish delivered a hurricane recovery status update to one of Sen. Mary Landrieu’s top aides on Wednesday.
Ben Billings, a senior policy adviser on Landrieu’s staff, visited the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Gramercy and then took a tour along with parish and Federal Emergencfy Management Agency officials to see some of the damage caused by Hurricane Isaac in the parish.
A former staff director for the Senate’s Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery, Billings was joined by a staff member of the Senate’s Committee on Appropriations, on which Landrieu sits.
Landrieu, D-La, and the staffers were in the area for a Senate hearing on Hurricane Isaac in New Orleans on Tuesday, but Landrieu did not visit St. James Parish on Wednesday because she had visited the area less than two weeks ago, the staffers said.
Billings took a tour of the Disaster Recovery Center along with parish officials such as Parish President Timmy Roussel and Sheriff Willy Martin, getting a feel for the FEMA operation that has been set up in St. James Parish. In addition, he also peppered parish officials with questions about their recovery efforts before leaving on a guided tour led by Eric Deroche, the parish’s director of emergency preparedness.
Deroche took Billings and FEMA officials to visit an electrical substation that was flooded, a sewer lift station that took on nearly 3 feet of water, a portion of Airline
Highway that was flooded from backwater on the Blind River and some of the 55 homes in the parish that were flooded.
Billings said he planned to take the information he gathered from Wednesday’s tour and give an update to Landrieu on the parish’s recovery efforts.
Roussel said about 90 percent of the construction and vegetative debris left by Isaac has been cleaned up in the parish, while Jody Chenier, the parish’s director of operations, said parish officials had not really begun cleaning out the parish’s ditches and waterways.
Sandy Ramsey, the manager of the Disaster Recovery Center, said nearly 400 parish residents have been serviced by FEMA in less than three weeks. About a dozen workers are at the center to assist residents with each step of applying for FEMA recovery assistance, as well as representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“As we go into the disaster further, the more complicated the cases get because they haven’t been resolved yet,” Ramsey said.
On the tour stop at the Gramercy sewer lift station, Gramercy Mayor Herman Bourgeois and Deroche told Billings about how the station took on water during the hurricane, which caused half the town to be without sewer service for three or four days.
Bourgeois said because the motors that powered the lift station were sitting on the ground; they were damaged by the rising water.
He said the motors cost a couple of thousand dollars to replace, but town officials now have plans to lift the station by 3 to 4 feet to prevent any future flooding.
“If we had another storm, we’d lose everything again,” Bourgeois said.
Prior to Isaac, Deroche said, the previous record for floodwater in the parish was during Hurricane Juan, which caused flooding for several days during October 1985.
“We exceeded the all-time high water mark with Hurricane Isaac,” Deroche said.
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