The fate of the Old White House near the Mississippi River levee had been tested many times before, so when Hurricane Ida’s path shifted to the Gulf Coast, Mercedes Bourgeois thought she would stay there. . Away from the flood-prone subdivisions on the south side of LaPlace, the one-story home first built in the 1950s was no stranger to natural disasters.
Hurricane Betsy (1965): “The worst…We were without power for about a month.”
Hurricane Ivan (2004), then Katrina and Rita (2005). Hurricane Gustav (2008): “The first one I experienced without my husband,” says the 84-year-old widow. And who in St. John the Baptist Parish could forget Hurricane Isaac (2012)?
“This time, the storm was coming and I said: ‘I’m not going to leave my house'”, says Bourgeois.
But with each day before landing, the outlook steadily worsened as Ida headed for the Louisiana coast. Eventually, her children intervened.
“They grabbed me and I left,” she said. “The next day when I came back here it was just awful.”
Parts of the roof were destroyed. One of the front doors was ripped off the hinges. A tangle of woody debris was everywhere.
Recovery may take Bourgeois longer than most because she lacked home insurance, a safety net that on her fixed income has long been too expensive for her. She is just one of thousands of residents of St. John the Baptist Parish still battling the aftermath of last year’s storm. The parish saw an inordinate share of its homes damaged by Ida’s winds and floodwaters, according to a Times-Picayune analysis of state insurance and census data.
More than three in four – exactly 82% – of occupied homes in the parish have filed an insurance claim for wind damage, the analysis found. This was more than any other parish in the state closely affected by Ida. And that’s probably an undercount, because of the many people like Bourgeois who didn’t have the extra financial protection.
The analysis clearly shows the disproportionate effect of the storm, which spread just west of New Orleans, on a number of small parishes. More than half of the occupied dwellings in the parishes of Saint-Charles, Saint-James, Terrebonne and Lafourche are damaged.
Other parishes in the area, namely Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany, produced tens of thousands of additional insurance claims after Ida. However, claims filed represented a much smaller share of the housing stock.
Saint-Jean is unique for another reason. More than half, or 58%, of the 7,000 households with policies in the National Flood Insurance Program also filed an insurance claim, a separate analysis of flood claims data found. Most of those claims were centered in LaPlace, where nearly three-quarters of residents live and where the risk of flooding is highest. The floodwaters came from Ida’s thrust into subdivisions near Interstate 10, which experienced similar flooding in Isaac in 2012.
No other parish suffered flood damage of the same magnitude, the data suggests. The next closest, by comparison, is Tangipahoa Parish, where 10% of the 10,000 flood policyholders have filed claims, the data shows.
A FEMA official said the data could change as more people file claims, although it has now been more than seven months since Ida’s death. The numbers give the clearest view yet of the damage done and what it would take to recover.
“Our biggest concern as a homeowner again is flooding,” said St. John’s Parish President Jaclyn Hotard, noting that the federal government ultimately allocated $1.3 billion for the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain project. Hurricane Levee, which aims to protect LaPlace’s back flank.
“Of course it can’t happen soon enough, because until it’s built we don’t have that flood protection,” Hotard said. “We know this dike is coming. However, by 2024, when it should be finished, could it happen again? »
Long term recovery
the $1.7 billion in hurricane relief funds set aside by the federal government for the state so far will go a long way in getting communities back to normal. State officials say they expect funds to begin flowing to residents nearly a year after the storm.
That’s much sooner than the long wait for victims of Hurricanes Laura and Delta after those storms crippled the Lake Charles region in the fall of 2020. State officials plan to launch long-term housing programs for those storms this spring.
“It’s already a lot faster for Ida because ownership came months instead of a year after the disaster,” said Pat Forbes, executive director of the state’s office of community planning.
“While the people of Laura will go back almost two years from their storm before the federal process let the money out. For Ida, it will be closer to a year.
FEMA offered relief assistance for housing assistance, while the Federal Small Business Administration provided low-interest disaster loans. But the new funding announced March 22 would flow from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to the state.
Forbes said the cash’s top priority was addressing unmet needs, particularly those of renters and landlords. He said the state’s action plan for Ida will resemble those created for previous storms, allowing officials to quickly get the money to those who need it.
“We know getting money out quickly is critical,” Forbes said. “We will do everything we can to make this happen.”
Fill the void
Meanwhile, churches and other nonprofits have stepped in to fill the void in St. John.
More than 1,000 volunteers traveled to hurricane-damaged communities this week to repair homes for people in need. The Tupelo, Mississippi-based group named Eight Days of Hope has organized the effort once or twice a year since Hurricane Katrina.
Stephen Tybor III, Group CEO and Executive Director, said some 28 families would get new roofs and another 30 families would have their entire homes repaired within eight days.
“They have a need that cannot be met by FEMA or the insurance companies because of the lack or lack of the right insurance,” Tybor said.
The group will be based at New Wine Christian Fellowship, a church in LaPlace that has been organizing smaller volunteer groups since immediately after the storm.
“It’s kind of like a steroid injection,” Tybor said.
One Friday in March, Mercedes Bourgeois turned to New Wine to help her do what an insurance company could have done. She is not a member, but the pastor is an old family friend, she said.
Through the church, about half a dozen students from Farmington, Maine were helping to repair some of the damage to her home. But because it’s all voluntary, she said finishing could take months.
As the volunteers neared the end of their day’s work, Bourgeois was outside, studying the remains of a downed cedar that his father had planted in 1974. Only a short length of trunk remained; the tree was snapped in half by Ida. The roots still clung to the ground, desperate for new life.
A burly man who led the Maine students shook off the uprooted stump, saying they should have had it dug up and transported.
Hurricane season begins in about two months, and some forecasters have already predicted that there could be up to 19 named storms and 9 hurricanes in 2022.
In due time, Bourgeois thinks she’ll be thrown back into a familiar cycle: fleeing danger. Damage report. Struggling to rebuild.
Does it ever get too heavy to bear?
“I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t care about it anymore,” Bourgeois said. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”