ISAAC’S IMPACT

FEMA has approved grants for 32 percent of nearly 200,000 requests for assistance

Advocate staff file photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Greg Seguin makes his way down a still-flooded Amite Lane in Maurepas after Hurricane Isaac in September on his way to his grandfather's home, where he was staying until he could repair his flooded home.
Advocate staff file photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Greg Seguin makes his way down a still-flooded Amite Lane in Maurepas after Hurricane Isaac in September on his way to his grandfather's home, where he was staying until he could repair his flooded home.

Almost 200,000 Louisiana residents from 26 parishes filed for federal help as a result of Hurricane Isaac, records show.

That doesn’t include people who filed flood or homeowner insurance claims, but didn’t register separately for grants or loans, said FEMA spokeswoman Gina Cortez.

FEMA approved grants for 32 percent of those making requests that weren’t related to businesses, and residents are appealing some cases, she said.

Some people making business claims, as well as others who didn’t get grants from FEMA, were still eligible for loans from the Small Business Administration, Cortez said

With filing deadlines for individuals passed and most cases decided, the focus has shifted to state and local governments’ attempts to get reimbursements for the money they spent preparing for, dealing with and cleaning up after the storm, officials said.

Federal funds provided to individuals and their parish governments roughly follow the path of Isaac, with hot spots for population centers.

Though that money continues to flow from FEMA, local officials interviewed say they are concerned about how much they will recoup.

The state estimates the damage to be more than $600 million, said Kevin Davis, director of Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has only approved about $465 million. Unless the total reaches $593 million or the president intercedes, state and local agencies will only receive 75 percent reimbursement.

SBA loans don’t count toward the $593 million threshold, said Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for GOHSEP.

If the threshold is met, state and local governments would receive 90 percent of approved bills as they did after Hurricane Gustav, Davis said.

The difference between 75 percent and 90 percent “is pretty doggone important,” said Mark Harrell, director of emergency operations for Livingston Parish, which was one of the areas hit hard by flooding after the storm rammed into Louisiana on the evening of Aug. 28.

Isaac not only carried heavy rain, but its winds shoved a wall of water ahead of it.

The storm stuck near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Not surprisingly, Plaquemines Parish is where Isaac appears to have done its worst damage.

So far, FEMA has approved $111.9 million in funds for Plaquemines Parish government and residents, 6,221 of whom requested federal help. They are receiving $10.7 million in FEMA grants and $25.2 million in low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration, records show.

By the morning of Aug. 29, Isaac’s winds were battering Jefferson and Orleans parishes where more than 100,000 people who have sought federal assistance reside. Those parishes have been approved for $66 million and $58 million in federal funds respectively.

The 59,330 residents of Jefferson Parish who sought federal help are receiving $18 million in grants and $30.8 million in loans. In Orleans Parish, the 51,217 residents who applied for help are receiving $14.4 million in grants and $18.6 million in loans.

Then Isaac sloshed water from Lake Pontchartrain into LaPlace and other parts of St. John the Baptist Parish surprising residents as that water poured into their homes.

So far, FEMA has approved $91 million for that parish, including $1.5 million awarded last week to repair sewer and storm pumps damaged by Isaac.

Records show 12,664 St. John residents sought federal help and have received $31.5 million in grants and $47.8 million in low-interest loans.

A few hours after that flooding on the south shore of the lake, the wind shifted and pushed the lake’s water onto the north shore, said Ronnie Simpson, a spokesman for St. Tammany Parish, recalled Friday.

“It was like somebody turned on a light switch,” Simpson said in describing the rush of water from one side of the lake to the other.

Most of St. Tammany Parish’s damage came from flooding, he said.

FEMA records show 14,782 St. Tammany Parish residents filed for assistance. They are receiving $9.8 million in grants and $14.5 million in loans out of a total of $31.3 million that has been approved to go to the parish.

Isaac next pounded southern Tangipahoa Parish with wind and rain.

The storm surge was worsened not only by local rain but by the river flooding from the storm’s rain in areas to the north, said Parish President Gordon Burgess.

“It took days to get the water out,” Burgess said.

So far, Tangipahoa Parish governments and its residents have been approved for $16.5 million in federal funds as a result of Isaac. More than 10,000 parish residents applied for federal help and are receiving $10.9 million in grants and $4.2 million in loans, records show.

Jeff McKneely, director of finance for Tangipahoa Parish, said he has compiled additional receipts for large, parish expenses and is waiting to meet with FEMA to discuss those bills.

“It’s very important to us” for FEMA to pay 90 percent rather than 75 percent, he said.

“These storms create a significant burden,” McKneely said. “We have to pay all of these expenses up front, and it takes forever to get everything done when dealing with federal bureaucrats.”

He said it was last year before the parish got FEMA to finish paying the bills from Hurricane Katrina.

The water Isaac pushed into Lake Maurepas then swirled into southern Livingston Parish.

As in Tangipahoa, the storm surge in Livingston mixed with rain and swollen rivers. It flooded homes from Killian to Whitehall as well as some in other parts of the parish, said Layton Ricks, the parish president.

Some areas remained flooded for days, he said.

For a parish already experiencing financial difficulty, Isaac added another burden, Ricks said.

It will be difficult for the parish if volunteer fire departments, municipalities and parish government don’t get reimbursed for 90 percent of their cost, Ricks said.

Parish and local governmental bodies have submitted $2.2 million in requests for reimbursements, said Brandi A. Janes, deputy director of the Livingston Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Records show that 5,127 Livingston Parish residents applied for federal assistance and are receiving $7.9 million in grants and $2.8 million in loans. So far, federal agencies have agreed to pay a total of almost $12 million to people and agencies in the parish, FEMA records show.

In addition to the above parishes, which top FEMA’s damage list, records show significant impacts to other area parishes.

The storm caused wind damage and dropped significant rain on East Baton Rouge Parish.

Records show 5,484 people requested public assistance and are receiving a total of $2.7 million in grants and loans. So far, federal agencies have obligated $9.6 to the people and local governments, according to FEMA records.

Parish government hasn’t received any of that yet, said Scott Dyer, a spokesman for Mayor-President Kip Holden.

The parish continues to prepare invoices with needed pictures and documentation to present to FEMA, Dyer said.

In Ascension, more then 3,000 people requested federal assistance and are receiving $1.9 million in grants.

Governmental bodies in the parish have also incurred about $1.7 million in expenses, Parish President Tommy Martinez said.

Paying 25 percent of that would cost local governments $425,000, which would be a significant hit, Martinez said.

Like other parishes, Ascension is at the mercy of what percentage the federal government decides to pay, the parish president said.