Victims of Tornado Damage Still Waiting on FEMA

Those without insurance whose homes were damaged in the Nov. 23 tornado that ripped through Holum and Olla, Louisiana are still waiting to hear if they can expect any help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Harris Brown lost his job about three months ago and could not afford insurance premiums, so he let his homeowner’s policy lapse. Then on Nov. 23, a tornado ripped the roof off of the Holum home he shares with his wife and two children.

“We’ll have to start from scratch, but we can’t get started yet,” Brown said. “We don’t want to touch anything until the decision is made.”

The only thing they have been able to do is make telephone calls.

“We’ve called our elected officials, senators, representatives, just about everyone we can think of,” Brown said.

Art Jones, chief of Louisiana’s Disaster Recovery Division in Baton Rouge, said FEMA and local disaster preparedness officials have already assessed the damaged areas, so all the information is in FEMA’s hands.

“It’s a bulky process,” Jones said. “FEMA’s Region VI Office has been in touch with us every day. Local officials, senators and representatives, we’ve all been working on this very hard.”

Larger disasters garner more attention, however, Jones said, so though the tornado devastated Olla in LaSalle Parish and Holum in Caldwell Parish, it was relatively small in scale compared to the destructive force of the Florida hurricanes.

Barbara Shipp, congressional liaison for FEMA’s Region VI Office, said she has been taking a flood of telephone calls at the region’s Denton, Texas headquarters asking about the delay.

“All I can say is that it is in process,” Shipp said.

The governors of both Texas and Louisiana have made the necessary requests; the damage assessments have been completed and forwarded to the Region VI Office where it was then forwarded to the White House for a decision.

“We’re still waiting to hear from them,” Shipp said, “But as of (Wednesday night), no word yet.”

Meanwhile, the Browns are staying in a house owned by John Garrett, the man who taught Debra Brown and her husband science at Caldwell Parish High School. They try to make life as normal as possible for their children, a teenaged son, Sherman, and their 3-year-old daughter Natalie.

During the tornado, the front portion of their roof lifted off the house, and landed in their backyard, where it remained last week.

Some furniture survived, and the vehicles were untouched, but much of what they had they couldn’t save. They weren’t sure if the house was stable enough to explore.

“The floor gives,” she said.

Calls from the Browns and other families have not gone unheeded in Congress, U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, said Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve gotten some calls and we’ve been to Olla,” he said. “I talked to FEMA yesterday, and they assured me there would be a decision before Christmas.”

If FEMA assistance is denied, there are other options, including low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration, Jones said.

“The problem is, we can’t start that process until FEMA denies funding.”

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