BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Growing numbers of Louisiana residents are turning to the state to find a place to stay after Hurricane Laura ravaged the state’s southwestern region, wrecking homes, ripping away roofs and leaving hundreds of thousands without utility access.
In addition to the thousands of evacuees staying with friends and family or putting themselves up in other temporary locations, more than 11,000 people are being sheltered by the state, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday. The vast majority are relying on the state for shelter are staying in hotels — largely in New Orleans, but also in Baton Rouge and Shreveport.
The numbers tick upward each day, Edwards said at a news conference.
“What’s driving people to the shelter is some combination of their home not being safe, habitable and secure, not having power and not having water, and for many people in our shelters, it’s going to be all three,” the governor said.
More than 260,000 utility customers in Louisiana, about 12% of customers, remained without power Tuesday, five days after Laura’s fierce winds arrived, according to the Louisiana Public Service Commission. That included nearly every customer in Cameron Parish where the hurricane came ashore, and its neighbors to the north, Calcasieu and Beauregard parishes.
But while generators can patch over the power outages, the larger difficulty seemed to be with water systems. About 180,000 people had no water, the state health department said, while another 420,000 people were under boil water advisories for the water coming through their taps.
And repairs in the hardest-hit areas — and in some cases, total rebuilding of power and water structures — were expected to take weeks, possibly months.
Concerns about the federal government’s response to the hurricane started to mount Tuesday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved nine Louisiana parishes for aid to individual households, while Edwards continues to push for another 14 parishes to be added to the list. FEMA is offering $500 in one-time cash assistance to displaced households in those nine parishes, one-third the amount the state requested. And U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said he worried about plans for FEMA and the federal Small Business Administration to operate “virtual” disaster recovery centers for Laura, saying that could lengthen the recovery.
Louisiana residents “cannot afford to wait until reliable power and internet are restored to apply for federal relief, disaster loans and other necessary steps virtually,” Louisiana’s Republican senator wrote leaders of the two federal agencies. He added: ”We need boots on the ground, not bureaucrats with iPads on Zoom.”
Laura roared ashore on Thursday as a Category 4 hurricane just south of Lake Charles near Cameron, Louisiana, packing 150-mph (240-kph) winds and a storm surge as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters) in some areas. State officials have called it the most powerful storm ever to hit Louisiana.
“We have tens of thousands of our fellow Louisianans whose homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed, their livelihoods have been impacted, and it’s a very, very tough situation,” Edwards said.
Nineteen deaths in Louisiana and Texas have been attributed to the storm.
Damage assessments were only beginning, but projections from two Boston-based disaster modeling firms — Karen Clark & Co. and AIR Worldwide — indicated insured losses to U.S. properties from Laura could reach $8 billion to $9 billion.
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