Look out across the rooftops of New Orleans and you can see splashes of bright blue everywhere.
Nine months after Katrina, blue tarps still cover countless damaged houses, and homeowners are racing to fix their roofs before the summer rains and the hurricane season that began June 1 bring more misery.
Roof repairs have been held up by insurance disputes and other bureaucratic delays, as well as a critical shortage of roofers, who have more business they can handle.
“There’s only so many roofers and companies and individual roofers and supplies available,” said Ken Naquin, executive director of the Louisiana Associated General Contractors.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued 81,241 blue roof tarps across Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said spokesman Aaron Walker. But the number of damaged roofs was far greater because FEMA does not install tarps on certain kinds of roofs for safety and other reasons.
No one knows how many roofs still need repairs. But “obviously, it’s not all going to get done,” Naquin said.
Homes with tarps will be particularly vulnerable this hurricane season. The tarps are waterproof and are fastened in place, but they are no match for hurricane-force winds and offer little protection against tree limbs and other flying debris.
Moreover, roof damage holds up other repairs. No one wants to put in new drywall or carpet if the roof is going to let water in.
Elizabeth Calvit signed a contract in October to have the blown-off slate roof on her century-old home in the city’s Carrollton section replaced with metal sheeting, but the work is still not done.
It took months more before roofers even showed up. “They’re all completely overwhelmed,” she said. Then, two separate crews started work and failed to finish the job.
In the meantime, Calvit and her husband are staying in a downstairs bedroom and have not repaired the rain-soaked upstairs. Even a rainstorm – never mind a tropical storm or hurricane – is enough to make Calvit fret.
“Every time it would rain, it was like, ‘OK, we’re not sleeping tonight. We’re moving buckets in the attic.’ It’s stressful,” she said.
When an April storm dumped water on her half-repaired roof, water got through the tarp-covered half, dumping so much water upstairs it began to leak onto the first floor. Calvit and her husband spent the next morning bailing, mopping and drying out books.
“People keep asking, ‘How’s your roof?’ I say, ‘Don’t ask,”’ she said.
The first floor of Cynthia Hedge-Morrell’s house is little more than exposed wood studs, a fireplace and a light fixture hanging precariously over the entry. The sour smell of mold rushes out when she opens the door.
But the city councilwoman is anxious to get the roof and windows fixed to seal up the house against the elements and protect the second floor before it is too late.
“A lot of people are really pushing to get these roofs done,” Hedge-Morrell said. “If you look at all the blue roofs, I don’t think we have enough roofers in the area to handle this.”
Noland Bel agreed. He and other roofers are “snowed in,” he said. “It never stops.”
Hedge-Morrell feels compelled to try to save what remains of the home. Her husband and sons built the place. She and her husband raised four boys there. And her grandchildren used to like to play in the backyard swimming pool, now filled with greenish water.
“It’s not a structure,” she said. “It’s all your history.”
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