Head of Island residents face cleanup efforts
BY JAMES MINTON
Advocate staff writer
September 04, 2012
HEAD OF ISLAND — As floodwaters in southern Livingston Parish began to recede slowly Sunday, hundreds of residents along La. 22 faced the daunting task of cleaning up homes and camps inundated after Hurricane Isaac passed through the state.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Saturday added Livingston to the list of parishes in which hurricane survivors are eligible for assistance for damage to their homes.
A disaster recovery center will be set up in the parish, giving affected residents an opportunity to meet with FEMA representatives, Parish President Layton Ricks said.
Mark Harrell, director of the Livingston Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, said parish officials have several possible locations in mind but FEMA officials must inspect them to determine which better meets agency requirements.
“We’re working to get one to fit their needs,” Harrell said.
Meanwhile, affected residents may register for what FEMA calls “individual assistance” by going to http://
disasterassistance.gov or calling (800) 621-3362, a FEMA news release said.
Livingston Parish sheriff’s deputies and state troopers opened La. 22 to some residents living south of French Settlement to allow them to get the first look at their property and to recover items left behind in their haste to flee last week.
The area was hit by floodwaters from the rivers flowing south to Lake Maurepas as well as storm surge from the lake pushed in by Isaac.
Sunday was the first day the road became passable since the storm hit, but some parts of the road remained covered with a few inches of water flowing out of the Amite and Petite Amite rivers into the swamps bordering Lake Maurepas.
Deputies allowed people in pickups to make the trip, and Army National Guardsmen in 10-ton dump trucks ferried those who did not have a suitable vehicle to the Chinquapin community where sheriff’s deputies delivered them in boats to their homes.
Kevin Gautreau made the trip in an Army vehicle. A public works employee in Ascension Parish, he said he packed enough clothes for a week and headed to work before the storm hit.
He said his neighbor told him not to worry: Water wouldn’t get into his home while he was away.
Later — Gautreau said he thinks it was Wednesday — his neighbor called to say, “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.”
“There’s four feet of water in your yard,” Gautreau said his neighbor reported.
“He said it was the fastest he’d ever seen a storm surge come in,” Gautreau said.
After the slow trip to his home, Gautreau came back to higher ground with a broad smile on his face.
“Talk about a relief,” he said, explaining that the water only had reached the subflooring of his house, which means he will have to rip out his floors, but his appliances and other belongings were safe.
Vikki Mason, who lives near Gautreau, wasn’t as lucky. She moved her pink 1988 Buick Century, originally a Mary Kay sales prize, to what she thought was higher ground away from her home where the Petite Amite and Chinquapin Canal meet.
Her friend, Tony Robinson, delivered the bad news: The water was over the hood of her “Pink Panther.”
On La. 22 a few miles away, Rusty O’Brien walked in waist-deep water, looking for a submerged utility trailer while water flowed from the river through his house and into the swamp behind him.
A short distance away, Gerry Weeks and Michelle Crockett waited for the water to recede, but they did so from a dry island formed by a concrete wall that Weeks’ father built after the flood of 1983.
The house was spared because of the wall and sump pumps that kept up with seepage.
Sheila Picou built her home on Chene Blanc Lane above the 100-year flood elevation in 2004, but federal flood insurance officials changed the zones recently and she was not eligible for flood insurance, she said.
And this time, Picou said, she found water in her home.
“So many people didn’t realize this was going to happen,” she said.
Farther to the east along La. 22, most residents of the older settlements of Whitehall and Maurepas were spared major damage, but a few homes showed signs that high water had reached them.
Also hard hit was the community of Killian, parts of which are affected by the Tickfaw, Blood and Amite rivers.
Killian Police Chief Dennis Hill said the floodwater “started a good drop” about 2 a.m. Sunday and allowed emergency workers to reach homebound people with special medical needs, such as oxygen generators.
On Saturday night, a Grand Isle evacuee staying in Killian gave birth to a baby girl in the back of Hill’s pickup, which he used to get her through floodwaters to waiting paramedics.
“They’re naming her Stormy,” Hill said.
An Acadian Ambulance Service helicopter also landed on La. 22 on Saturday night to pick up a woman who was having a heart attack at a home in the flooded area.
The conditions of the heart attack victim and the newborn were unknown Sunday, he said.
Hill estimated 85 percent of the village was affected by flooding, including some 60 to 70 condominiums built at ground level on the Tickfaw River.
Killian police and firefighters from several Livingston Parish departments also delivered ready-to-eat meals to people stranded in their homes.
The assistance FEMA will offer to individuals may include grants for temporary housing, emergency home repairs, serious disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance and low-interest disaster loans, a FEMA news release says.
Residents should register with FEMA even if they have insurance, because underinsured applicants may receive help after insurance claims are settled, the release says.