Six months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita swept away thousands of Louisiana homes and businesses, the state is reportedly making long strides on the road back.
Assistance for hundreds of thousands of hurricane victims continues to flow into the area left damaged by the scouring winds and waters of August and September 2005 and recovery efforts are well underway.
“The damage caused by these two hurricanes in one state is unprecedented and it is going to take a significant amount of time to get to a full recovery,” said Scott Wells, federal coordinating officer with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “That is why FEMA is here and closely partnered with the State of Louisiana and committed to the recovery and rebuilding.”
FEMA is working closely with the State of Louisiana to complete the response activities, conduct recovery efforts and better prepare the communities of the state for future storms. Hundreds of Louisiana citizens met in community planning sessions during January to launch the planning for recovery.
These efforts are continuing throughout the state and will take “years, not months to complete,” said Wells. With 35 million cubic yards of debris removed in Louisiana in the past six months, 54 percent of the estimated debris removal mission has been completed. FEMA is continuing to reimburse debris removal in the State of Louisiana at 100 percent through June 30, 2006, providing a significant savings on cost share for the state and local governments. (See “By the Numbers” for more recovery statistics.)
Together, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were the most destructive and costly natural disasters in U.S. history, claiming more than a thousand lives in Louisiana and forcing hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes. In the months following these two events, almost 1.5 million people registered for assistance in the state. FEMA funding in Louisiana for victims of these two storms has surpassed $12 billion for rescue operations, crisis counseling, housing and living expenses, property losses, local and state government infrastructure, legal services and more.
Many applicants were provided aid from federal and state assistance programs. Through mid-February, FEMA provided $4.5 billion in grants to individuals in Louisiana for housing and other needs, which more than quadruples the $1.1 billion provided to families for the four hurricanes that crisscrossed the State of Florida in 2004.
Working with Louisiana officials, FEMA has scheduled March 11, 2006, as the final day for homeowners, renters and business owners whose property sustained physical damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to apply for federal and state disaster assistance. Officials urge individuals to register by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY: 1-800-462-7585 for the speech- and hearing- impaired, if they have not already registered. Calls may be made seven days a week from 6 a.m. to midnight CST. Applicants may also register for assistance online at FEMA’s web site, www.fema.gov . Click on the words “Apply Online” located in the upper right-hand side of the page.
For some people who call FEMA to register for assistance, the next step is to submit an application to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Through mid-February, more than $2 billion in low-interest disaster loans have been provided to homeowners in Louisiana , and nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in loans have been provided through the SBA to business owners and non-profit organizations for property damage and economic loss. Evacuees DO NOT need to complete a Small Business Administration loan application to be eligible for FEMA housing assistance.
“Louisiana is fighting its way out of the void left by one of the biggest disasters ever to face our nation. Now, the focus is shifting and the long view is taking shape,” said Wells. “Recovery will happen day-by-day, person-by-person, and community-by-community, and FEMA will be here to support that recovery.”
In January, citizen planning groups met in towns across the state to begin the process of setting goals and priorities to propel their communities forward. These sessions explored the full range of local opinions, including whether to rebuild or rethink destroyed neighborhoods and facilities.
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