LA confronts twin storm damage

BY PJ HELLER | VERMILLION PARISH, LA | October 8, 2002



"They were obviously taking advantage of everyone's concern about the storms, and preying on those concerns."

—Capt. Patrick Yoes


Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili -- hitting Louisiana less than a week apart -- damaged or destroyed 5,000 homes last week.

By Tuesday thousands of residents were still without power, others without water, as they tried to salvage what they could.

President Bush has declared Louisiana a federal disaster area.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said more than 40,000 residents had registered for assistance from both storms and that $4 million in housing assistance had been approved. Such funds can be used for such things as lodging expense reimbursement, small emergency repairs, temporary rental help and mortgage and rental assistance.

FEMA said four Disaster Recovery Centers were open in Slidell, Houma, St. Bernard and New Orleans. Others were scheduled to open in affected parishes, it said.

Faith-based organizations were lending a hand, with Church World Service helping to coordinate long-term recovery groups that plan to augment their ongoing response to Tropical Storm Isidore to address additional damages from Lili.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) reported that water damage from flooding would create long-term work needs.

"The stages of response include basic debris removal, mudding out homes, tearing out drywall, and then waiting for things to dry before rebuilding can begin," PDA reported.

PDA leaders said they anticipated a need for long-term volunteer work teams.

State officials estimated Lili caused $170 million to insured property. Those without insurance will face an even tougher recovery.

Lafayette and Vermillion parishes were hit particularly hard.

Isidore swept through the area Sept. 26 followed by Lili on Oct. 3.

More than 80,000 people in south and central Louisiana were still without power early this week. Some households in the south-central part of the state also were reported without water.

Curfews remained in effect in several towns to prevent looting. Police and armed National Guard troops patrolled the streets. Schools and businesses in several parishes remained closed as did some state courthouses.

Authorities on Monday reported the arrest of two people last week on charges of stealing $120,000 from homes and businesses that had been evacuated for Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili.

"They were obviously taking advantage of everyone's concern about the storms, and preying on those concerns," said Capt. Patrick Yoes of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Department.

In Louisiana, one death was reported due to carbon monoxide poisoning, the result of using a home generator for power. State health officials reported more than 60 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The storms also affected businesses, including offshore oil and gas production facilities. Officials had to evacuate more than 869 platforms and 20,000 people. The U.S. Interior Department said the shutdown halted the production of about 10 million barrels of oil and 60 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

Despite the damage, Louisiana residents admitted that the hurricane could have been worse. Lili had been a roaring Category 4 hurricane with winds topping 145 mph as it made its way across the Gulf, but fizzled to a Category 2 storm with 100 mph winds by the time it made landfall.

"Assessment is ongoing, but it appears as though the damage caused by Hurricane Lili is far less than it we had all feared it might be," said Tom Hazelwood of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. "There are pockets of damage."

Many remembered the devastation Hurricane Andrew brought to the area in 1992.

". . . I've lived through Hurricane Andrew and lots of other storms like this but I've never seen one slow down before it hit land," said Bert Langley, director of missions for the Gulf Coast and Evangeline Baptist associations. "For some mysterious reason it went from 145 mph to 100 mph before it came in."

If Lili brought less damage than expected, the storm did cause some less visible -- though significant -- damage to the barrier islands.

"Lili had a bigger impact on the islands than Andrew did," said Shea Penland, a Louisiana coastal expert and coastal geologist from the University of New Orleans. "The amount of erosion is unbelievable."

That means the area will be less protected come the next hurricane, since the islands serve as a protective barrier for coastal communities against hurricanes and other storms.

Lili was also blamed for 12 deaths in Haiti when, as a tropical storm, it struck the island Sept. 27. More than 1,400 homes were damaged or destroyed. The storm also left seven people dead in Jamaica and St. Vincent and one in Cuba.


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