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How Louisiana plans to rebuild after historically damaging floods

As the Louisiana flooding begins to subside, the state looks toward rebuilding. The disaster affected over 20 parishes, including areas outside flood zones -- meaning residents there do not have flood insurance. William Brangham speaks with Billy Nungesser, Louisiana's lieutenant governor, about how the state is planning to use FEMA funds, the help of volunteers and Red Cross shelters to recover.

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    As Louisiana struggles with historic floods, residents begin to wonder, what next?

    William Brangham has the story.




    As the flood waters start to recede, the hard work of assessing and rebuilding begins.

  • CLEVE BROWN, Baton Rouge Resident:

    Basically, we lost everything, you know, other than our lives. Couple of hours, we probably had six-foot of water. Water is probably one of the worst Mother Nature beasts there is.


    An estimated 40,000 homes were damaged in the flooding that inundated Baton Rouge and Lafayette, killing at least 13 people.

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson got a first hand look today.

    JEH JOHNSON, Secretary of Homeland Security: The federal government is here. We have been here. We will be here as long as it takes to help this community recover.


    Four thousand people are still living in shelters across the state.

    GAIL MCGOVERN, Red Cross President and CEO: This is the largest operation that the American Red Cross has responded to since 2012, Superstorm Sandy, and driving s around the affected area, it's really devastating.


    In the most damaged areas, only about one out of every eight homes is covered by flood insurance, because these areas weren't considered likely to flood.


    No one was expecting this. This is, I mean, you can see, I might have gotten from here at it's worst to up here. So, that's why no one was expecting it. So, they're not going to have flood insurance. They were, you know, they thought they were high and dry.


    More than 9,000 insurance claims have been filed so far.

    For more on how Louisiana is doing, I'm joined now by the state's lieutenant governor, Billy Nungesser. He joins us from Louisiana Public Broadcasting in Baton Rouge, where many of our colleagues there have also been flooded out of their homes.

    Lieutenant Governor, welcome.

    I wonder if you would just tell us, how are things today in Louisiana?

  • LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER, Louisiana:

    Well, we're still recovering. We still got areas where the water is flowing south that will continue to have water for several more days, and hopefully we can get a break in the weather and start to dry out.

    But I heard you mention about the flood insurance. That's going to be an ongoing problem because many areas, this is an historical flood, outside of the flood areas, they didn't have flood insurance, and that's going to be a problem moving forward.


    Well, what is going to happen to those people? If you go back to your house and it's severely damaged or destroyed, and you don't have insurance to cover that, what are those people supposed to do?


    Well, FEMA will give up to $33,000 if you weren't in a flood zone and had no insurance, but the average — that's the maximum you can get. The average is about $7,500. We're going to have to make up that difference with volunteers and the giving of people from all over the country working with nonprofits to help make those people back in their house and make them whole. A lot of elderly people that had never flooded, lived in a house 40 or 50 years, didn't see the need or couldn't afford the flood insurance. So, those are — those are the ones that we're really concerned about.


    I mean, even if people were to get up to $30,000, do you think that's enough to cover people's rebuilding, hotels, time off work?


    Absolutely not. That's why we're working through volunteer groups, United Way, Red Cross, a lot of the rebuilding groups that were here after Katrina will be coming back to help gut those homes and make them whole. We had groups from all over the country that are already starting in Louisiana to help out in the rebuilding effort.


    A lot of people acknowledged the flood maps that we use to determine where's the risky place to build and where isn't, but those maps are really outdated. And now, people have to start rebuilding their homes. I mean, what do you tell people if they come to you and they say, Lieutenant Governor, should I be building here? Should I build it higher? Should I build it differently? What do you say to people?


    Well, it absolutely should be built higher. And, you know, we see a lot of these rivers have been silted in over the years, so there is not as much storage capacity in those rivers and canals. Plus, with sea rise and with the coastal erosion, even the coastal Louisiana for hurricanes, we're going to have to really fast track our coastal restoration.

    But you're right. It's the same thing that makes Louisiana special. It's the people that pitch in to help rebuild. It's a special place to live, and that's one of the risks of living here.

    But absolutely, every one that rebuilds, as they did along the coast, needs to rebuild at a high elevation.


    More broadly, are you getting the help you need from the federal government right now?


    I'm really — you know, I have been through five hurricanes and the oil spill as a parish president, and we worked through a lot of challenging times with FEMA. But the team on the ground here in Louisiana has been with us every day, traveling with the governor and addressing all the needs, and we've really got a great team working on the ground with FEMA and I have seen great cooperation.

    We still got some challenges ahead, but I'm very impressed with the way things have been handled thus far with this disaster, especially being spread out over 20 parishes. Usually, a hurricane hits one corner of our state and we can concentrate all our efforts in that area. To deliver response with the National Guard and the police, volunteers, firefighters, at 20 parishes at one time has really been a massive undertaking and they've done a great job.


    You mentioned the importance of having local volunteer and charity groups helping out. If our viewers were interested in trying to lend a hand themselves, where would you steer them? Where would you direct them?


    VolunteerLouisiana.gov is where we're signing up all the volunteers and it's a way to check on and have your group come in and help, or the Red Cross is accepting donations. They are manning our shelters and will take them over from the volunteers this week.

    The Red Cross has been a great partner here in Louisiana and continue to run those shelters, and they're going to be feeding a lot of people. So, we are asking for all the help you can give, and the country has been very gracious in the past.


    All right. Lieutenant Governor, thank you for being here and best of luck to you all down there.


    Thank you so much.

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