Photos not allowed in Lamar-Dixon
By David J. Mitchell
River Parishes bureau
September 07, 2012
GONZALES — The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry does not allow independent news media photography of hurricane evacuees’ pets inside an emergency shelter in an effort to protect the owners’ privacy, department officials said Wednesday.
On Monday night, the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center near Gonzales received 26 dogs and one ferret from a state-run shelter in Haughton near Shreveport.
People evacuated due to Hurricane Isaac own the animals, the agency said.
The department will not allow photography of the animals in the makeshift kennels — without the owners’ permission — because the kennels contained identifying information about the owners, said Veronica Mosgrove, spokeswoman for the department, on Wednesday.
“It’s just to protect the identity of owners and the people (who) are actually in (a) shelter,” Mosgrove said.
All the animals and their owners had left the facility and apparently returned home by Wednesday afternoon.
The pet shelter rules emerged Wednesday as other developments in Ascension and surrounding parishes came to light:
- A heavy presence of freight-hauling tractor-trailer trucks remained Wednesday morning at Lamar-Dixon, which has been used as a staging area for Federal Emergency Management Agency commodities, but that effort is expected to wind down.
- In Ascension Parish, 1,237 people had applied to FEMA through Tuesday for individual assistance grants.
- Floodwaters in St. James parish had dropped about a foot by midday Wednesday and FEMA officials visited the parish to determine if it would qualify for individual assistance grants.
The state Department of Agriculture’s pet kennels were set up in livestock stalls at the Lamar-Dixon center near the evacuee shelter inside the center’s gym.
The evacuee shelter opened Friday at Lamar-Dixon as shelters at other public buildings in the parish closed.
Privacy concerns extend to worries that identifying shelter residents through a picture of their pet in the kennel, or by information identifying the owner, could open residents to a looting risk of their evacuated homes, Mosgrove said.
In times of emergency, a shelter, even at a public building, is considered a person’s temporary domicile, Mosgrove said, meaning shelter residents have a right to privacy, including a right to privacy in regard to their belongings.
Residents could be approached by news reporters or photographers when the animals were exercised Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, Mosgrove and agriculture officials at the animal shelter said, but, on Wednesday morning, one resident came earlier than expected to walk a pet and left.
Also, access to residents inside the shelter is controlled by overlapping rules under parish government and the American Red Cross, which is running the evacuee shelter at Lamar-Dixon.
Parish officials have said media members are not allowed to interview or photograph residents inside the shelter to protect their privacy, but could approach residents outside the shelter.
An American Red Cross spokeswoman, Nancy Malone, said her agency tries to work with the news media to interview residents who are interested and possibly allow interviews and photography inside its shelters, depending on consultation with other shelter residents.
The shelter at Lamar-Dixon has housed mostly residents evacuated from flooding in St. John the Baptist Parish, Malone said.
Some of those residents, and their pets, first went to state-run shelters in the Shreveport area before transferring to Gonzales.
Shelter manager Paul Helgesen said the shelter had 195 residents on Tuesday afternoon.
By Wednesday evening, that number had fallen to 80 people, according to a preliminary estimate from Malone.
A Red Cross shelter opened Tuesday in St. John the Baptist Parish received 75 people by 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, she said.
Meanwhile, a mass of 18-wheelers were parked at Lamar-Dixon on Wednesday morning.
The trucks are owned by FEMA contractors who have been bringing commodities such as ice, water and Meals Ready to Eat to points of distribution in the affected areas, according to Ray Perez, FEMA spokesman.
That operation is winding down, he said, and the unused ice will be brought to Camp Beauregard in Pineville and the MREs and water will be sent to state-owned facilities.
A total of 1,237 people in Ascension Parish had applied for individual assistance by Tuesday, according to Gina Cortez, another FEMA spokesman.
Individual assistance helps people with lodging costs and housing repairs and other needs during emergencies, such as clothing, furniture, cleanup and medical expenses.
The assistance is limited to $31,400 per household and cannot duplicate insurance coverage.
The state has asked FEMA to consider St. James and several other parishes for individual assistance; FEMA officials were in the parish Wednesday reviewing the damage, parish officials said.
St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel said the floodwaters had dropped about a foot from the high point and five streets had flooding midday Wednesday.
“The water’s receding, but it’s going out pretty durn slow,” Sheriff Willy Martin added.
Roussel said an estimated 30 to 36 homes had water inside of them.