MAUREPAS — About 60 residents of the southern portion of Livingston Parish gathered Sunday at the American Legion Hall to air grievances they had with the response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the flooding following the landfall of Hurricane Isaac in late August.
Maurepas resident Lonnie Sarvis said many elderly residents in the community have not been able to get FEMA assistance because they do not have Internet service, lack transportation and do not know how to get the help they need.
Resident Mike Supal said he has become frustrated in attempts to have his home raised through a federal and state remediation program.
“I have applied for everything that’s out there and have received no answers to my calls,” he said. “It’s discouraging.”
FEMA Individual Assistance Director John Patterson said federal funds for remediation are administered by the states. He said the funds have been sparse and only a few homes in Livingston Parish have been raised with remediation funds in the eight years since Hurricane Katrina.
Several others in the audience also complained about problems they have had getting assistance. Patterson said Congress set an individual cap of $31,400 for FEMA assistance in rebuilding homes damaged by flood waters during Isaac’s passage.
The meeting was organized by Maurepas resident Evelyn Dupuy, who said she wanted to create a forum where those interested in getting assistance could get answers to their questions about storm recovery from FEMA and other officials.
Patterson acknowledged he could see extensive damage in the area from Maurepas to Head of Island. He said he observed a large amount of debris removed from flooded homes alongside La. 22, which runs through Maurepas.
He asked the audience how many had applied for FEMA assistance and almost everyone in the audience raised their hands. He then asked how many had flood insurance, and only a few hands went up in the air.
Patterson stressed that homeowners who have insurance should first contact their insurer to determine how much damage could be covered by their policies. He said FEMA will not pay for damage already covered by insurance policies.
Patterson said the Disaster Relief Center in Satsuma remains open and encouraged those who have not yet applied for aid to visit the center. He repeatedly urged the residents to utilize the FEMA hot line, (800) 621-3362.
He also said FEMA is actively seeking rental properties to relocate those who have been displaced by the storm. He said FEMA will stop paying hotel and motel expenses on Sept. 30 and the agency is seeking more permanent housing for those who still cannot live in their homes. Patterson said FEMA does not have temporary housing units to place on individual properties.
Patterson assured those residents who complained they had been denied FEMA benefits that they still have the opportunity to get help.
He said FEMA has to follow a number of steps in deciding who is eligible for assistance, but anyone denied financial assistance can file an appeal. About 10 claims representatives from FEMA were on hand Sunday to offer personal assistance.
Garth McDonald of the Small Business Administration said his agency’s Office of Disaster Assistance can be of service to those who might not have qualified for FEMA benefits. He said those whose homes sustained storm damage can still obtain a very low-cost loan to repair damage to their homes.
Parish President Layton Ricks, meanwhile, said his office is working on a re-evaluation of the parish’s response to the storm. Ricks said he had heard complaints that wakes from U.S. Army National Guard trucks assisting in rescuing victims had caused unnecessary flooding in some areas.
Ricks also said he is working with officials in Ascension and other neighboring parishes to address allegations that excessive water from those parishes had been pumped in the south end of Livingston Parish.
Ricks said he had been criticized for referring to the Maurepas area as the “lower end of the parish.”
“I will not make that mistake again,” he said. “You are not the lower end of the parish. You are the southern end of the parish.”