“It’s still dire:” Louisianans living in dangerous conditions still waiting for federal help months after Hurricane Ida

Louisiana

MONTEGUT, La. (BRPROUD) – It has been over two months since Hurricane Ida and people are still living in tents or in their destroyed homes and they say when they reach out to FEMA or GOHSEP they are getting the runaround.

“Everything is really demolished. It’s like a disaster, like a war zone,” said Gertie Dupre of lower Montegut.

Gertie and her sister have lived in their house since the 1950s. Hurricane Ida cracked the walls all the way down the living room and now leans against the roof.

It goes from bad to worse. Sleeping at night was a challenge as raccoons scurried around their tent and black mold grew on the walls of their childhood home. But the sisters, one blind and the other deaf are determined to keep their house.

They were given funds from FEMA to fix the house and applied for a trailer to have a safe place to sleep. But were met with an ultimatum.

“A woman came and said that she had to bulldoze my house to the back in order for us to have another house and that made me very angry because I didn’t want to do that,” Gertie said.

They’ve had no power or water since the storm. A Good Samaritan has given them a place to stay but now they can return home…almost.

Matt Rookard is with the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority. When the organization saw how slowly the FEMA and GOHSEP trailers were rolling out, they took matters into their own hands.

“I don’t think people really understand the situations that these folks are living in,” Rookard said.

Through donations from multiple organizations, he’s been able to purchase used trailers and bring them to families most in need. He delivered a trailer to Gertie and her sister this week and placed it next to their home. It is theirs for free and they can do whatever they want with it even after they get back into their original living space.

“The lack of an existing strategy for temporary housing for after a disaster it’s mind-boggling I think is the easiest way to say it,” Rookard said.

They’ve been able to get 11 trailers out and are funded to deliver around 70. They’re planning to get funding for 100 trailers and then shift their focus to more long-term housing options.

Up the road in Chauvin, frustrations with FEMA continue to simmer.

“This was our Katrina” is what Joy Hebert described Ida as.

The Hebert family was one of the thousands displaced by Hurricane Zeta in 2020. Now the home they’ve been renting was claimed by Ida.

“Our landlord was nice enough to give us our deposit back and they told us good luck trying to find somewhere else to live,” Joy said.

While living in a borrowed trailer, Joy has been on the phone with FEMA for weeks getting nowhere.

“We’ve gotten told we’re going to get housing assistance, rental assistance, personal property from FEMA and that all just…I don’t know…we got the runaround” Joy said.

Just when it seemed money was on the way, FEMA accidentally paid them twice. Which has now led to an issue with Joy’s bank. An issue that remains unresolved. 

The family’s main source of income is Josh’s crabbing boat which was damaged by Ida. Groups like the Helio Foundation are filling the gaps.

“I go to bed. I have a bed. And I know there is a child sleeping in a tent,” said Raegan Duplantis-Creppell with the Helio Foundation. “I don’t even know what to do about that. I don’t know how to justify that in my head. It makes my head feel like it’s going to explode because there’s still children sleeping in tents.”

“We’re all we got. We didn’t really have that much. I mean the National Guard is already gone. They left three weeks ago,” Joy said.

The Helio Foundation is working to make sure families stay warm this winter.

“Yes, it’s devastating but it’s way worse when you’re in the situation,” Joy said.

Elected officials said the state is trying to get help out as soon as possible, but even the GOHSEP program is tied up with federal red tape.

“It’s all designed to save money. It’s all designed to not have fraud. It’s all cost-driven instead of what it should be driven as, which is helping people,” Rep. Tanner Magee said.

After Hurricane Katrina, Magee said FEMA was hesitant to start a new trailer program. Now 16 years later there is disorganization and confusion all around.

“I don’t understand why it’s so difficult and why you have to reinvent the wheel,” Rep. Magee said. “It’s not just Terrebonne, it’s all of south Louisiana from Cameron Parish to St. Bernard.”

In the meantime, the bayou communities continue to hold each other up and pray that more help is on the way.

“It’s not a Louisiana problem, it’s very much a federal government problem,” Rookard said.

Magee said he is going to bring legislation to make changes to how the state responds to these storms because gone are the days they are once in a decade. The way south Louisiana has been left to pick up the pieces he believes is unacceptable.

“It’s still dire. You still have people living in make-shift housing situations that are not safe, they’re not conditions we should accept as Louisianans,” Rep. Magee said. “They’re not conditions we should accept as Americans.”

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