WASHINGTON — With Isaac moving out of Louisiana as a tropical depression, the “major disaster” recovery can begin soon, but federal officials warned Thursday that southern Louisiana is still in a “response” effort with ongoing flooding and “water hazard” risks in some areas.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Administrator Richard Serino said federal resources are being moved in from Florida and Alabama and that the general public must remain cautious and vigilant.
“This is still a life-threatening situation in some areas,” Serino said.
He also praised the heroic rescues to save thousands that were made by many state and local officials, including the Louisiana National Guard, while the U.S. Coast Guard continues to monitor for risks and possible search-and-rescue needs.
While FEMA and local officials were prepared, Serino said, “I think the amount of rain that came down surprised a lot of people.”
“Whether a community is beginning the cleanup process, or still feeling the effects of Isaac, residents still need to be alert to the dangers that remain,” added FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “This is still a powerful storm and there are a number of areas both along the coast and inland that can be affected by strong winds, storm surge and inland flooding and tornadoes.”
National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb said that, while Isaac is moving north and weakening, it remains powerful and potentially dangerous with its long bands continuing to create potential tornado activity.
Knabb said there was still 4 to 8 feet of storm surge Thursday afternoon in some parts of the region, while rainfall has ranged from 7 to 14 inches across widespread areas and exceeded 20 inches in very isolated spots.
President Barack Obama officially announced a “major disaster” declaration for 35 Louisiana parishes, including East Baton Rouge Parish, late Wednesday evening. Doing so opens up more funding for “emergency protective measures and debris removal,” Serino said.
The declaration for federal funds to flow on a larger basis — but on a 75 percent federal share — came shortly after Gov. Bobby Jindal requested an expedited major disaster declaration. However, Jindal wants the federal government to sign off on covering 100 percent of the costs.
On Monday, Obama had approved a pre-landfall disaster declaration for Louisiana in advance of Hurricane Isaac.
Fugate has maintained that additional requests to waive state cost shares would be reviewed after the storm.
Such was also the process for Hurricane Gustav in 2008 under President George W. Bush.
In his latest request, Jindal cited the state’s disaster struggles dating back to hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Gustav and Ike in 2008 and the 2010 BP oil disaster.
“All of these successive incidents have depleted the state and local governments’ ability to respond to a strengthening hurricane rapidly approaching,” Jindal wrote.
Obama also declared a major disaster for Mississippi.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has deployed federal medical stations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans to serve as medical special needs shelters for residents.
U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Robert Parker said Mississippi River water levels are being monitored as far north as St. Louis with no major problems yet.
Seven Coast Guard helicopters are assessing the damage along the Gulf Coast and looking for any environmental risks from possible oil leaks. “So far, we have not uncovered any significant events,” Parker said.
Red Cross Senior Vice President of Disaster Services Charley Shimanski said Red Cross sheltered more than 4,700 people Wednesday night throughout the Gulf Coast region. He said he expects that number to grow with 1 million or so people without power.
Red Cross is focusing on the emergency needs for now and then will eventually evolve into recovery efforts and assisting people on an individual basis. For more information call 1-800-RED-CROSS, he said.
Also, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is opening his office Friday for constituents to get information on assistance and claims through FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program.
The office can be reached at (225) 929-7711, and is located in Suite 100 of 5555 Hilton Ave.