Terrebonne raising homes as FEMA raises rates

Published: Sep. 5, 2013 at 9:55 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 12, 2013 at 10:02 PM CDT
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Houma, La. - Earl Laughlin found his little slice of paradise more than 20 years ago.

"You hear birds," he says. "It's like being in the country but it's not. You're close to the city."

But Laughlin's house in east Houma flooded three times in the last eight years.

After Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, he decided to get off the ground. Laughlin's house now sits eight feet above sea level.

"Before, I was looking at about two foot, and it really wasn't even above, I think it was two foot below," he says. "So we raised it up."

So much work has been done since Gustav made landfall in Cocodrie five years ago. Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet says more than 900 homes have been raised and more are going up all the time.

"Until we get all of our levees completed to a height that we know our people are secure, we need to make sure they're protected," he says.

But all that work could be for naught if the new flood maps handed down by FEMA don't recognize it.

The agency released guidelines Wednesday explaining how the new flood insurance rates will be calculated.

The rate for people living at the base elevation level would be $1,410 a year. Four feet under: $9500.

Claudet says, while the new guidelines reflect lower premiums for some homeowners, it's not enough. The fight here continues.

Terrebonne Parish is part of a pilot program called Levee Analysis and Mapping Procedures, or LAMP. Under the program, levees, floodgates and natural ridges will all be taken into consideration when FEMA determines the base flood elevation.

Members of the local LAMP committee, including Claudet, met for the first time Thursday.

Claudet says to do all the work and then to be told that it might not be enough would be a prime example of government waste. "Because we know that we have them to elevations that we think that they're safe at," he says.

Though he doesn't yet know what his new flood insurance rates will be, Laughlin feels safer now that he's off the ground.

"I call the house the camp now," he says.

His little piece of paradise is no longer in danger of being lost.