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Hurricane Ida recovery: Louisiana local leaders say FEMA ‘missing in action’ as parish pleads for help

Local leaders say FEMA ‘missing in action’ as Southern Louisiana pleads for help with Hurricane Ida recovery

This is the first part of a Fox News Digital Originals series about the ongoing struggle for residents to recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Ida in southern Louisiana.

Ever since Hurricane Ida ripped his small Louisiana town apart, David Camardelle has called FEMA “federal emergency missing in action.”

The storm made landfall Aug. 29 with winds up to 150 mph near Port Fourchon, about 10 miles southwest of Grand Isle and Camardelle’s home. A month later, dozens of residents whose homes were destroyed live in communal shelters and lack the resources they need to begin rebuilding.

Grand Isle, the state’s last inhabited barrier island, is home to about 1,000 full-time residents. It’s also part of Jefferson Parish, which includes the Greater New Orleans area.  

“It just takes a while,” said Camardelle, shouting over the sounds of a generator still needed to deliver power to Grand Isle City Hall.

David Camardelle (D), Mayor of Grand Isle (left), speaks to local leaders in his office damaged by Hurricane Ida.

“Joe Biden and all the administration, they’re trying their best, but in the meantime, somebody’s paperwork is sitting on a desk,” Camardelle, the town’s Democratic mayor, told Fox News. “You don’t need 20 people, 25 people between a FEMA trailer to give you the keys.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency just announced “temporary solutions” to provide housing options in areas hardest hit by the storm, including RVs. The Sept. 30 announcement came one week after Fox News met with local leaders in Jefferson Parish and the same day Fox News reached out to the agency for comment.

“To help address the shortage of sheltering and housing options in Southeast Louisiana, the state is establishing some temporary solutions, including a non-congregate sheltering program using recreational vehicles (RVs), such as travel trailers,” the FEMA press release stated. “Non-congregate shelters are locations where an individual or family can live safely with some level of privacy.”

“This program will focus on the most heavily impacted parishes, providing some immediate sheltering assistance until FEMA’s Direct Housing program is fully underway,” the statement continued.

FEMA also stated that a call center will open early next week for residents interested in the state-run sheltering option. No timetable is provided for when the RVs will arrive.

As of Friday morning, Jefferson Parish leaders say they have not received any of the long-term trailers requested immediately after the storm, despite dozens of residents still living in shelters.

FEMA does not expect the first long-term trailers to be delivered until mid-late November. However, the agency told Fox News it is paying for hotel stays for 1,661 Jefferson Parish households. FEMA also said it’s providing rental assistance to help people relocate.

“These are people, especially if you didn’t have insurance, you’re going to want to rebuild your house, you want to be on your property,” Cynthia Lee Sheng, the Jefferson Parish president, told Fox News. “You can’t be in a hotel in another area of the state or another state altogether.”

“And this is what people need to do is start reclaiming their lives by rebuilding their homes, and they need to be on their property to do that,” Lee Sheng continued.

Lower Jefferson Parish is home to approximately 10,000 people, many of them commercial fishermen and local business owners.  

“I’m not bad mouthing nobody,” Camardelle, who’s been mayor since 1997, told Fox News. “But somebody’s not telling the boss the right information.”

“They’re just sitting there … they’re takin’ a bath, they’re eatin’ good in another state, and they have no clue,” Camardelle continued.

Just south of New Orleans, in Jean Lafitte, residents are still digging out their homes.

“Twenty-five percent of our constituents became homeless overnight,” Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner Jr. told Fox News. “Fifty percent can’t live in their homes for a long time–over 50%.”

“This community was devastated … it’s heartbreaking,” he continued. “Right now, it’s getting a roof over their heads and also trying to work on when they can feed their families.”

Driving through town, trash, debris, boats and even a coffin can be seen on the side of the road. The conditions only deteriorate as you drive south. 

A coffin displaced after Hurricane Ida sits on the road outside Jean Lafitte, Louisiana.

“I’ve been back here 25 years, it’s the worst it’s ever been,” said one commercial fisherman in line to stock up on supplies from a local charity. “I haven’t seen no help at all yet, applied for FEMA, I haven’t seen anything yet. But I’m feeling it’s coming.”

FEMA reports that since Hurricane Ida struck, nearly 500,000 individuals and households have been approved for more than $660 million in assistance. However, Jefferson Parish residents say dealing with FEMA is a struggle.

“Every time I ever dealt with FEMA was a pain,” a local restaurant owner named David told Fox News. “I mean, I never did get right.”

“You know, you wait, you wait, there’s nothing but red tape, and you never really get nothing accomplished,” he continued. “At least that’s my experience.”

Jefferson Parish Councilman At-Large Ricky Templet told Fox News: “The federal government will spend millions and billions of dollars to save a green frog’s habitat. Same thing, they’ll spend billions and millions of dollars to save a spotted owl habitat.”

“It’s time we start looking at how we save our habitat and put our money where our mouth is,” he continued. “Either way, you know, these communities are part of America, a part of the state of Louisiana, or they’re not.”

Julie Erny, who owns a home on Grand Isle, said she has just one message for President Biden and FEMA: “Just don’t forget about us, cause we are still suffering.”

FEMA said any survivors needing immediate housing, can text LAShelter to 898211 or dial 2-1-1 to locate a shelter.

Rebekah Castor contributed to this report.

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