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FEMA leader visits Louisiana to check out hurricane recovery

August 26, 2021 GMT

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled Thursday to southwest Louisiana to view the region’s recovery from Hurricane Laura, hearing an earful of concerns about housing needs and the slow pace of disaster rebuilding aid for schools a year after the storm.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell met with Gov. John Bel Edwards and regional leaders before touring the area to see some of the rebuilding work. She said she hoped to address the worries raised in her meetings, but she also noted: “Recovery does take time.”

Hurricane Laura struck southwest Louisiana on Aug. 27, 2020, as a Category 4 storm just south of Lake Charles. Less than two months later, Hurricane Delta swept into the same area as a Category 2 storm. Nearly 47,000 homes were damaged by Laura across 21 parishes, most in the Lake Charles region, according to state estimates.

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Criswell said Laura was the most powerful storm to impact Louisiana since 1856, with enough debris removed from the region to fill New Orleans’ Superdome six times.

Edwards and Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter thanked FEMA for its quick response to the storms. But Hunter raised concerns about a pending request to the White House seeking to decrease the portion of rebuilding costs state and local government agencies must pay. And Edwards said Calcasieu Parish has had difficulty with the pace of FEMA rebuilding aid that threatens to slow school repairs.

Meanwhile, Hunter continued to stress the need for congressional relief in the form of disaster recovery block grant aid.

Louisiana has received hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA rebuilding assistance given to states after disasters, but not the supplemental disaster assistance Congress usually allocates after hurricanes. Edwards has requested $3 billion in assistance, mainly for housing programs.

“We continue to plead with Washington, D.C., to provide that needed aid,” Hunter said at a live-streamed news conference with Edwards and Criswell.

The Democratic governor said he’s hopeful the disaster block grant aid will be included in congressional budget legislation expected in September.

The visit to southwest Louisiana near the one-year anniversary of Laura comes as the state is threatened by a tropical depression that formed Thursday and could become a major hurricane.

“The time to prepare is now,” Edwards said. “We have a storm that will soon enter the Gulf. The Gulf is absolutely ripe in terms of the conditions for rapid intensification of this storm.”