Emergency response effort ramps up in Louisiana

Emergency response organizations are working together to help Louisiana residents affected by surging floodwaters. The American Red Cross, the National Guard and other organizations are working around the clock to bring in supplies, evacuate threatened areas, and set up temporary shelters.

Patrick Pannett, spokesman for the Red Cross, is a volunteer out of Washington, D.C. who is working on the ground in Baton Rouge. He said the response was ramping up quickly and aggressively.

“The floodwaters are surging at different times in different areas. We have three or four distinct areas that we’re not able to traverse across,” Pannett told AMI Newswire. “We’re having to work with partners such as the National Guard to help get supplies in.”

The Louisiana National Guard could not be reached for comment, but according to a press release on its website,  more than 3,300 guardsmen are assisting with emergency operations. They have rescued more than 7,600 citizens and 1,200 pets.
“As conditions change we are transitioning and moving toward a 50 percent response – saving lives, search and rescue operations – and a 50 percent recovery effort – shelter security, commodities distribution, logistics and parish support,” Louisiana National Guard Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis said in a press release. 

Pannett said that as of Sunday night the Red Cross had organized about 50 shelters that housed more than 10,000 people, but he said those numbers were likely to change as the situation developed.

“We’re prepared for a long-term resilience operation to help people get back on their feet,” Pannett said. “This is probably the biggest response effort since Hurricane Sandy.”

The Weather Channel has reported that rivers have reached record highs, surpassing the previous records by four to six feet in some areas including multiple sites along the Amite River.

On Friday, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency. On Monday, state offices were closed in 27 parishes according to a press release from the State of Louisiana Division of Administration.

Over the weekend, President Obama signed a disaster declaration, officially making federal aid available to supplement state and local recovery efforts. According to a White House press release, assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property loses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency named Gerard M. Stolar as coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the parishes identified by FEMA. The application period for assistance opened on Monday with four parishes designated, including East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St. Helena, and Tangipahoa.

By 6 p.m. Monday more than 31,000 people had registered from designated and undesignated parishes. As of noon on Tuesday, eight more parishes had been added to the designated areas list. These include: Acadia, Ascension, East Feliciana, Iberia, Lafayette, Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, and Vermillion according to FEMA’s Louisiana severe storms and flooding webpage. 

“They’re still assessing damages,” said Terri Romine-Ortega of the FEMA Region 6 News Desk. “We want to make sure everybody’s safe, that’s the first priority. Once they’re safe, they can call and register with FEMA for assistance.”

More parishes could be added as the assessment continues. “People shouldn’t panic right now if they’re not included,” Romine-Ortega said.

This isn’t the first time this year that Louisiana saw record rainfall. According to the Weather Channel, almost 27 inches of rain fell in Monroe on March 8 through March 11, precipitating flooding at five river gauges across the state.

On March 13,  President Obama declared a major disaster for the State of Louisiana. By the end of the damage assessment, FEMA had designated 36 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes as eligible for assistance.

As of Monday night, the Red Cross had more than 1,000 volunteers working on-site and remotely, Pannett said, and more are expected. “The response effort is going to be continuing for quite some time before we’re going to start thinking of recovery efforts.”

According to the Weather Channel, scattered thunderstorms could hit Baton Rouge and surrounding areas Tuesday evening.