After Baton Rouge Flooding, Learning Lessons From New Orleans – New York Times

On Saturday, some of the original members of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency set up to oversee the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, met with local and state officials at the offices of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a civic group, to talk about the lessons of the last 11 years. With homes in Louisiana still underwater, the talk was preliminary, said John Spain, the executive vice president of the foundation. But there was plenty to look back at and see as experiences not to repeat.

â??Weâ??re 11 years after Katrina, and only 60 percent of the housing stock in St. Bernard Parish is back,â? Mr. Spain said, referring to a parish just east of New Orleans that was almost entirely destroyed by the levee failures after the hurricane. This time, it was Livingston Parish, just east of Baton Rouge, that was almost entirely flooded. â??Itâ??s important that we donâ??t repeat mistakes whether itâ??s from Sandy or Katrina or Gustav.â?

Part of the issue then was how long it took for homes to be rebuilt and essential services to come back. After Hurricane Katrina, thousands endured extended stays in FEMA trailers, and thousands of others eventually settled down permanently in cities elsewhere, bleeding New Orleans of its population.

Interactive Graphic

See the scale of flooding that affected more than 140,000 homes.

OPEN Interactive Graphic

In this flood response, several officials said, FEMA is pursuing a strategy of getting people to move back as quickly as possible into at least one or two rooms of their flood-affected houses, an aim that would depend on quick payments and a work force of volunteers.

â??Our efforts to help the schools get back open and get as many people back in their home as soon as possible is going to minimize the effect we had after Katrina,â? said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican, who praised the federal response.

â??Right after Katrina, we didnâ??t see that passion to really help,â? he said.

Still, there is plenty that has not been learned, or learned but not fixed. A report released last year by Save the Children, an advocacy group, found that few of the recommendations of a federal commission on children and disasters, which was set up after Hurricane Katrina, have been carried out nationally.

And those who have worked with poor and working-class families since Hurricane Katrina expect to see many of the exact same problems they saw over the last decade, even if they now feel more savvy about fighting them.


Ruined items from flooded homes lined Leesburg Avenue in Baton Rouge, La., on Monday, a week after flooding there. Credit Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

â??The kinds of things youâ??re going to see early on are things like people facing a potential eviction because housing is scarce,â? said Laura Tuggle, the executive director of the Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, which helped the poor after Hurricane Katrina.

She ticked off some more of what she expected: sudden sharp rises in rent, withheld deposits, increases in domestic violence for those stuck in close quarters and, for homeowners, complicated title problems that could jeopardize access to assistance. All of these are matters that lawyers with her group had to tackle after Hurricane Katrina. She has already gotten calls about some of them this time.

â??You know what needs to be done,â? Ms. Tuggle said, recalling the months during which she was unable to get back to her home in New Orleans in 2005. â??Because weâ??ve been there.â?

Betty Michelli, 63, of Baton Rouge, has now been there, though she had never been there before. On Saturday, volunteers with the St. Bernard Project were gutting her house and piling debris out on the front lawn. She and her husband stood in the hot garage, going over all that they do not know about disasters, from how FEMA is supposed to contact them, to how one gets loans from the Small Business Administration, to what exactly they are going to be doing next.

â??I donâ??t know,â? she said. â??I just sit down and cry.â?

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