Louisiana officials survey hurricane’s devastation and wonder how much federal aid they can expect

LAKE CHARLES, La. — As floodwaters from Hurricane Delta receded from this city, the largest in southwestern Louisiana to be severely hit by two hurricanes in six weeks, residents and city officials on Sunday were still surveying the damage of compounding crises — and wondering how much federal help they can count on.

Power had returned in many neighborhoods and some traffic lights were working again. Some outlying areas were still underwater after a double dose of storm surge from Delta on Friday and Hurricane Laura in August, though water levels had lowered across the city.

Statewide, almost half of all power outages stemming from Delta had been restored by Sunday afternoon, officials said, after peaking at nearly 690,000 — more than during Laura. But in a testament to the storms’ lasting devastation, more than 9,000 Louisianans remain in shelters, most of them displaced by Hurricane Laura, authorities say.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had previously promised to deliver alternative housing for residents whose homes were destroyed in Laura by mid-October, Mayor Nic Hunter said in an interview Sunday, and the agency said that will still be the case after Delta.

But how much financial assistance this besieged city of 78,000 residents will receive from the federal government is still uncertain, Hunter said. FEMA Administrator Peter T. Gaynor declined to provide assurances that the city will receive full reimbursement for municipal costs incurred during the hurricanes, Hunter said.

The federal government has provided full reimbursement in extreme cases before, the mayor said, including after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Michael, which made landfall in the Florida panhandle in 2018.

“To have us go through what we are going through right now, and to be treated differently than Michael was in 2018, to me it’s going to be a slap in the face,” Hunter said.

In response Sunday, FEMA said that public assistance in disaster areas typically covers 75 percent of expenses.

“FEMA is not able to change the cost-share amount,” the agency responded in a statement. “Only the President and Congress have the ability to adjust the cost-share percentages.”

With an economy partly reliant on tourism, Lake Charles was already struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the city and Louisiana have to recover from a punishing storm season, too. Laura and Delta are believed to have caused billions of dollars in damage across the state, including tens of millions in Lake Charles.

And Delta’s toll is still emerging. Officials on Sunday announced the first death linked to Delta: an 86-year-old man in St. Martin Parish killed by a generator-sparked fire. At a news conference, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) urged “extreme caution” in using the devices.

Delta made landfall in the tiny town of Creole in rural Cameron Parish on Friday night, arriving with Category 2 strength and 100 mph winds before spinning north. While the damage from Hurricane Delta’s storm surge was less severe than from Hurricane Laura’s, the storm’s expansive wind field led to a record in at least one location. At Freshwater Canal Locks, La., the surge climbed to at least 9.3 feet as the storm made landfall.

Some neighborhoods in Lake Charles were left in thigh-deep water on Saturday, though it receded over the course of the day under sunny skies.

Authorities were continuing to survey the damage Sunday. At a Lake Charles airport, Coast Guard Rear Adm. John P. Nadeau, the service’s top official on the Gulf Coast, climbed into an HC-144 propeller plane on Sunday and flew over Cameron Parish to the south, where Laura and Delta made landfall 15 miles apart.


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