Looking Towards A Long Recovery: Louisiana August Floods

Over the past 72 hours, communities in Louisiana have experienced a rain storm that has been compared to hurricane style flooding. Early Friday meteorologist began sounding the alarm that the rainstorm that had been forecasted would deliver significantly more rain than they had anticipated. In fact, they warned, it would dump 24 inches of water over the span of two days

With the advent of new technology, meteorologists can predict hurricanes days in advance. Though they do not always know the exact track, they are able to give enough notice that communities and individuals can take immediate actions to ready themselves. This includes boarding up windows, moving furniture and valuables to higher floors, stocking up on food and water, and most importantly, evacuating.

Louisiana is no stranger to rain. Anyone who has been there during inclement weather will tell tales of even the smallest rainstorms causing street flooding. But with just a few hours notice communities and individuals were not able to take the usual immediate actions. This left tens of thousands stranded as the water rose. 20,000 water rescues took place over the weekend and over 10,000 were in temporary shelters.

As the flood waters rose disaster nonprofits from all across the country descended on the impacted areas. The Red Cross, Salvation Army, Heart to Heart, World Renew and dozens of others are in the process of deploying their resources. The local community and local organizations have been working nonstop to meet the needs of the community. Individuals have organized their own search and rescue missions and donations are pouring in from New Orleans and beyond.

Though response is a trying experience, it is the recovery, especially in the long-term that will require continuous assistance. Survivors often call recovery “the second disaster”. Recovery from this type of disaster will take years, long after the media leaves town. The average person with flood damage will return to their home to find their belongings ruined by flood water. Few things will be salvageable, especially the longer they sit in the humidity. Mold will come quickly.

Most people do not have the resources to pay out of pocket for their own recovery. They will turn to friends and family for assistance – financial, or as a place to stay while they make repairs. The generosity of friends and family, though helpful, will likely not be sufficient. In these particular communities impacted by flooding, entire families live on the same street and have likely all been impacted. Many will not have the resources to help each other.

Few people have flood insurance (regular homeowner’s insurance does not cover flooding). Yet even for those that do, as PBS recently explained, flood insurance is not an easily or quickly navigated process. Insurance companies are notorious for blaming flood damage on other causes to get out of paying up, and making homeowners jump through hoops for months and years. 

FEMA will open individual assistance in many of the affected parishes (counties). Here too, individuals will be forced through a complex and convoluted process that many homeowners have described as a full-time job. At most, residents will receive $32,000. For many this will not be enough to fully rebuild and cover the expenses incurred in the meantime (the cost of evacuating, the cost of taking time off work, the cost of renting while the construction work takes place).

This leaves homeowners at the mercy of recovery nonprofits. The United States has many national recovery nonprofits such as St. Bernard Project, All Hands, and Rebuilding Together. Many rebuilding groups, like St. Bernard Project, got their start after Katrina. Those that are still working on recovery in New Orleans (11 years later this month) will likely point their help towards Baton Rouge and surrounding communities. The combination of efforts from these groups will play out over the next several years. They will bring donations and volunteers in from across the United States, even the world. The nonprofits will be the ones working with the local community to sustain the recovery. Though we like to think of these groups as galloping in on a white horse the reality is that many of them are coming in at a trot.

These types of groups need help. Though there has not been a large-scale disaster that has quite captured national attention since Sandy in 2012 these groups have been working around the clock. They have already been stretched thin with recovery work ongoing in states across the country including South Carolina, Michigan, West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, and California (not to mention their international responses in places like Nepal and Ecuador). They need help from volunteers and they need donations after the immediate response is over.

During and immediately after disasters there is an influx of donations and volunteers to help with tasks such as running shelters, delivering aid, search and rescue, and cleaning out houses. That help is needed and important but so too are the volunteers that come 6 months, one year, two years, and in the case of some disasters, 10 years later. The volunteers who come 2 years after bring a renewed hope and motivation to the people living and working in communities experiencing recovery.

The amount of time, stamina, negotiation, and sheer will that is required to make it through recovery is incredible. Unfortunately, the reality is that some people will never recover. Some will not be able to access the help they need through these programs, they will fall through the cracks, they will give up, and they will move away. As you watch from afar, give what you can and keep these groups in mind over the next few years. Remember that the monetary donations that come in years after, though small, are what keeps these groups in these communities. They are just as important as the donations and volunteers that come while the ground is still wet.

A list of ways to help with the current flooding is available at nola.com BUT REMEMBER THAT CASH DONATIONS TO LOCAL NONPROFITS ARE BEST.