Livingston, Tangipahoa parishes shift focus to debris cleanup
Officials and many residents of Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes have moved from dealing with an emergency to dealing with its aftermath.
As floodwaters from Hurricane Isaac continued to recede slowly Tuesday, countless homes remained flooded and pockets of residents remained without power. Rescue operations almost have ceased.
The Emergency Operations Center in Livingston has basically shut down and National Guard trucks have moved out of the parish, officials said.
The presidents of Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes said they have shifted their focuses to getting cleanup operations and government assistance programs running at full speed.
“We are going into recovery mode,” Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said.
Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess said he was trying to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make a declaration that would provide individual assistance to homeowners and business owners who suffered flood damage.
In Livingston Parish, which already has that designation, Ricks said he is working with FEMA to get a Disaster Recovery Center and an emergency food stamp distribution center set up.
Everything appears ready to open the food stamp center at the Amvets Hall on La. 42 in Springfield, Ricks said.
He also said he is reviewing proposals and trying to get a debris removal operation into place.
The debris removal contract and related work from Hurricane Gustav remain a financial and legal issue for Livingston Parish.
The debris removal requirements for Hurricane Isaac are quite different from Gustav, said Mark Harrell, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness.
Gustav produced a lot of wind damage, which means the debris was mainly vegetative, he said.
Isaac mainly produced water damage, which means people are bringing out their carpets and household items as water levels fall, Harrell said.
“It’s a different animal,” he added.
Parish officials asked residents Tuesday to take their debris to the roadside and to separate it into vegetative waste and household waste.
Ricks said he hopes to see debris pickup begin this week and would like to handle all the pickup with a single trip through the parish.
Denham Springs officials approved a contract Tuesday afternoon with Ceres Environmental Services of Houston to begin debris pickup next week.
Ceres was the low bidder based on volume, and the city capped the contract at $1 million, Mayor Jimmy Durbin said.
Walker began several rounds of debris removal last week “as soon as the storm lightened up,” Mayor Bobby Font said.
As of Tuesday evening, city crews had picked up more than 75 percent of the debris, he said, adding that a final pickup will be conducted in several weeks.
Burgess said he has decided that Tangipahoa Parish will handle its own removal of debris from Isaac rather than hire a contractor.
“We can do it faster and a lot cheaper,” the parish president said.
In Livingston Parish, Sheriff Jason Ard said the number of homes flooded will not be known for days.
Many of the homes are on small roads that aren’t easily accessible, he said.
Determination from the air of which homes flooded is difficult because of changing water levels, parish officials said. In many cases, questions of inches make the difference between homes that flooded and ones that didn’t, officials said.
Some homes remain flooded in the areas of the Amite Diversion Canal, Head of Island, Bear Island and other isolated areas, Ricks said.
Residents returned to some of those homes Tuesday to get medicines and other items, parish officials said.
Some residents haven’t been able to get back because the water is still too high, officials said.
In Tangipahoa, Burgess said he does not yet know how many homes and businesses were flooded or otherwise damaged by the storm.
Floodwaters remain in “a few homes and a bunch of camps” in the southern part of the parish, he said.
Worries about additional flooding from the possible failure of a dam in Mississippi have ended, Burgess said.
Work there appears to have solved the pressure on that dam that regulates flow from a large reservoir into the Tangipahoa River, Burgess said.
The parish has shut down its shelters and a church is handling those people who still need a place to stay, Burgess said.
In Livingston Parish, only 11 people remained in the public shelter, Ricks said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, announced a public meeting Tuesday to discuss individual assistance from FEMA. The meeting will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the French Settlement Town Hall on La. 16.
Livingston Parish Councilwoman Sonya Collins said the meeting should answer a lot of questions she has been receiving about help available for storm victims.
“Lots of people have never flooded before and didn’t have flood insurance,” she said of her constituents in the southwestern part of the parish.
Collins said residents in her area need a north wind to help push floodwaters out. “The water is receding, but it’s slowly receding,” she said.