A flood can be measured in inches and impact, but perhaps the best gauge of a flood's ferocity are the hours that turn to days, and the days that turn to months before someone can truly come back home.
Three months after floodwater swelled inside her small house in Robert, Clara Bush is only halfway back. Her house has dried out, but panic has set in. Surrounded by exposed studs and walking on bare concrete floors, she still lives in her partially repaired house but can't say it feels like home. Bush has flood insurance, but she's on a fixed income and she’s waiting to get reimbursed for repairs that she's charged to credit cards. That waiting takes a toll.
"[it’s] frustrating, depressing...because you just go from one person to the next - or they push you off, or, 'We don't have this, that's not your claim number' - anything in the world you wanna hear."
Two doors down from Clara, David Pittfield calls the camper in his driveway home for now. His friend let him borrow the camper while Pittfield and a contractor work furiously to repair his house.
“I’m hoping to move in and get my little boy's room set up, get him situated back to normality even though he thinks it’s fun to stay in the trailer. He thinks its camping. But I think he's ready to come home too, asking, ‘Is it done yet, Is it done yet?’ He's as ready to get back home as I am,” Pittfield explained.
In Robert, contractor signs outnumber campaign signs this season. Residents here say good help is hard to come by. Most contractors are swamped with a backlog of work, and they need to be paid on time. That’s why many homeowners resort to repairing the damage themselves with family, friends, churches, and non-profits - anyone, who can swing a hammer or fire up a circular saw. But while the work is underway on some homes, thousands of others sit frozen in time.
Some neighborhoods here and west toward Baton Rouge are deserted, with no progress in sight. Other homeowners are selling their flooded houses for a fraction of what they were worth prior to the storm. Clara Bush says she had her house up for sale for over $150,000 before the torrential rains came. Today, she says she's considering a buyer's offer of $80,000.
Pittfield has no choice but to rebuild little by little.
“It's gonna happen again. If it happens twice in one year, It's gonna happen again. I just hate going through this. And I can't sell my house, I'm gonna lose money. My house isn't worth anything now," he said.
FEMA officials say they are doing all they can to get people reimbursed for flood damage, but the process takes time.
“Since this disaster happened, we paid out at this particular point in time, we've paid out $1,367,000,000 in flood claims. And we're only at about 51 percent of closed claims. So we've got a long ways to go yet,” said Larry Fordham with FEMA.
He said the reason some payments can take time to process include homeowners who refuse to sign proof-of-loss forms. He says those who have yet to receive their funds need to stay in close contact their insurance agent who sold them the policy, as Fordham admits getting a FEMA adjuster to return to a property after an initial visit is difficult.
“Shortly after, it wasn't long when Hurricane Matthew came to visit us on the East Coast a lot of our adjusters that were here, have gone. Many of them have gone to North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia,” Fordham explained.
While some homeowners wait on their flood insurance money, the state of Louisiana estimates it needs $4 billion in federal disaster recovery funds to help the thousands of people who don't have flood insurance.
Officials estimate a total of 150,000 people were impacted in the August flood. In September, the federal government, through HUD, granted Louisiana $438 million. It’s money that Community Development officials say the state won't be able to spend until late December or January at the earliest.
Pat Forbes, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development describes the situation.
“This is close to a tenth of the amount of money that we need," Forbes said. "Consequently, we will not be able to help everybody with this first $438 million. As a result, we will have to prioritize who we will be able to assist first.”
That includes those who sustained major flood damage, with low to moderate incomes, who don't live in the 100-year floodplain, and don't have flood insurance.
Thousands in our state are still displaced in campers and trailers, hotels, temporary apartments, or staying with friends and family. Some head to the eight remaining disaster resource centers still open across south Louisiana. At these locations, flood victims can get rental assistance and low-interest federal loans from the small business administration.
For all the traffic moving through these tents, officials say thousands more remain in the shadows, never reaching out for assistance with the deadline to apply expiring. Clearly, the path back to normal can be daunting.
”Why can't I get my money?” Clara Bush wonders. “It's been a month for a claim number, now a month to try to get my own money.”
While officials plead for flood victims to stay patient, Fordham summed it up by saying, “It is hard to have patience when you have been devastated and all... but I can tell you this: It will pass also. Soon people will be back on their feet, we'll be looking back and saying thank goodness it’s over.
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