Alongside respective St. Charles and St. John parish presidents Matt Jewell and Jaclyn Hotard, FEMA representatives delivered updates on the status of several ongoing Hurricane Ida recovery efforts and issues Monday, including debris clearance and the availability of temporary housing for those displaced.
The address came following a meeting between FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, Jewell and Hotard at the St. Charles Parish Emergency Operations Center Monday.
For those who have lost or are displaced from their home, a state-run temporary housing program was activated last month. Two thousand travel trailers have been purchased and 338 of them are in place so far, with 158 families currently utilizing them.
But there are still many others still in limbo as FEMA rolls out its own housing assistance program. That should aid thousands, Criswell estimates.
“We’re estimating about somewhere shy of about 3,000 people will be in need of FEMA’s direct housing assistance,” said Criswell. “We have licensed in the first few occupants into direct housing but our direct housing program does take time. That’s why we’re partnering with the state on their non-congregate sheltering program. It’s why we have the temporary sheltering assistance program, where we utilize hotels to help create that bridge to where we can get direct housing and those temporary units in place.”
She cautioned it could take months before all 3,000 people are taken care of through the program, but that it won’t be that long for everyone.
“Part of that is because individuals have their own unique needs. I think you’ll see a lot of people who get in right away, but there are always some that do have a few specific needs that takes a bit of time,” Criswell said.
FEMA says it’s looking at possibly creating group sites where hundreds of residents live, along with housing on available land for individual families.
Meanwhile, Criswell said about eighty percent of storm debris has been cleared. Jewell said that by this week’s end, the parish will have picked up over one million cubic yards of debris.
Both parish presidents said upgrading critical infrastructure must be prioritized.Criswell concurred. These storms are getting stronger, and there are no indications that trend will reverse itself, she said. Thus, the focus must be on doing whatever is necessary to fortify these areas and make them ready to deal with these kinds of events when they do take place, as there can be no assumption the events will remain as rare as in the past.
“It comes down to becoming more resilient … we’re seeing more severe storms, intensifying more rapidly and causing more damage. As a result of climate change, this is only continuing to get worse … the only way we’re going to be able to keep up with that is starting to reduce the impacts we’re seeing from the storms,” she said. “And that means building back more resilient, using the mitigation dollars we have … I think we have to start thinking about the future threats we’re going to face and reducing the impact from those. We’re not going to be able to stop these events from happening.”
Jewell said a number of topics were discussed, including the future of flood insurance policies in coastal Louisiana as companies react to Ida.
“I hope to continue to work with FEMA and administrator Criswell to make sure those policies don’t cripple or kill our coastal communities,” Jewell said.