With an estimated 40,000 homes damaged by deadly flooding, Louisiana could be looking at its biggest housing crunch since the miserable, bumbling aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a decade ago.
Residents wade through floodwaters from heavy rains in the Chateau Wein Apartments in Baton Rouge, La., Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. Heavy downpours pounded parts of the central U.S. Gulf Coast on Friday, forcing the rescue of dozens of people stranded in homes by waist-high water and leaving one man dead who became trapped by floodwaters.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
People whose homes were swamped by some of the heaviest rains Louisiana has ever seen are staying in shelters, bunking with friends or relatives, or sleeping in trailers on their front lawns. Others unable or unwilling to leave their homes are living amid mud and the ever-present risk of mold in the steamy August heat.
Many victims will need an extended place to stay while they rebuild. Countless others didn’t have flood insurance and may not have the means to repair their homes. They may have to find new places altogether.
“I got nowhere else to go,” said Thomas Lee, 56, who ekes out a living as a drywall hanger — a skill that will come in handy. His sodden furniture is piled at the curb and the drywall in his rented house is puckering, but Thomas still plans to keep living there, sleeping on an air mattress.
Exactly how many will need temporary housing is unclear, but state officials are already urging landlords to allow short-term leases and encouraging people to rent out any empty space they might have.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose very name became a punchline during Katrina, said it will look into lining up rental properties for those left homeless and will consider using temporary housing units.
But FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate gave assurances that the temporary units won’t be the old FEMA travel trailers — a reference to the ones brought in after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that were found to have toxic levels of formaldehyde.
The flooding that has struck the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas has left at least 12 people dead. More than 30,000 have been rescued, and at least 70,000 have registered for federal disaster assistance. At the height, 11,000 people were staying in shelters, though that had dropped to 6,000 by Aug. 17.
Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said that only 12 percent of the homes in hard-hit Baton Rouge were covered by flood insurance, and only 14 percent in Lafayette. He called those figures shocking.
FEMA said more than 9,000 flood claims have been filed with the agency.