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LA faces long-term recovery

Louisiana is still cleaning up damage caused by Hurricane Lili, Tropical Storm Isidore and tornadoes.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | LAFAYETTE, La. | January 14, 2003

"We've got a lot of homes particularly mobile homes that need to be elevated."

—Lura Cayton

Disaster relief groups here are still cleaning up the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Lili and Tropical Storm Isidore in early October and a gaggle of tornadoes that cropped up a few weeks later.

"This is a huge, huge disaster," said Sarah Schoeffler, director of United Methodist Disaster Recovery, based here in Lafayette.

What was the largest disaster for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2002 FEMA processed more than 176,000 applications wound up getting relatively little media attention, she said, because of the D.C.-area sniper attacks which got so much attention shortly afterward.

But her group and others here in the Acadiana region are working to ensure that long-term recovery from the storms takes place as quickly as possible.

Schoeffler, working under the auspices of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, will set up an office next week with a staff of four.

Part of that work will focus on very immediate needs, like cleaning up tree limbs and assorted debris still left over from the storms.

Schoeffler said seven or eight retired loggers from Tennessee are arriving next week to help specifically with that task.

Schoeffler's group has also been instrumental in identifying needy families in the harder-hit Abbeville area in Vermilion Parish; they have so far found 42 cases there that need the maximum amount of assistance (in Lafayette, on the other hand, they found less than half that number of maximum cases).

Lura Cayton, disaster response and recovery liaison for Church World Service, said recovery in Vermilion Parish is likely to progress more smoothly now that the parish has established a local interfaith committee.

Cayton has also worked to establish interfaith groups in Evangeline and St. Landry parishes, and met with local clergy in Eunice, La.

An additional issue, besides debris removal and financial assistance to storm victims, Cayton said, is the rebuilding of destroyed homes in a way that prevents future flood damage. State law requires this process in certain flood plain areas of coastal Louisiana, she said, particularly in Terrebonne Parish.

"We've got a lot of homes particularly mobile homes that need to be elevated," Cayton said.

Further north, in Eunice, volunteers with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) are working to patch up damaged homes.

In one case, MDS built a new home from scratch-for a family, in the small town of Mamou, living in a house with a leaky roof and "walls you can see through," according to Shirley Hochstetler, who, along with her husband Herman, run the MDS effort here.

The Hochstetlers set up here in their travel trailer shortly after the storms, and they've been running their operation out of warehouse off Route 190 that was donated by the nearby Eunice Manor, a senior citizen's home.

The Hochstetlers currently have a crew of 19 Nebraskans on site for a week. Next week, three Canadians will arrive and stay for two months.

"The ones from Canada want to go as far south as they can," Hochstetler said, "which is really nice-when you have that consistent labor."

The Hochstetlers have crews lined up through the end of March. They have 59 scheduled projects left to accomplish, and 16 have already been completed.

MDS has a lot of ground to cover projects range over five parishes and Herman Hochstelter estimates that they'll be active here well into the summer.

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