The state Department of Health has confirmed more mosquito-borne illnesses in Louisiana, including Zika and West Nile Virus. Louisiana Medical Director for the Center for Community Preparedness, Dr. Frank Welch, says there have been 14 cases of West Nile Virus so far this year. But he says these cases are not flood related.
“These all occurred and the confirmation has occurred before the flooding. So people shouldn’t associate these West Nile cases with the recent flooding,” Welch said.
Welch says right after the flood we see a decrease in mosquito populations because they drowned. But he says we could see more West Nile cases soon, as mosquitos will come back in higher numbers because of all the standing water from the flood.
“Before the flooding, we were actually in for a slower West Nile year. This is less cases than we normally see at this point,” Welch said.
Welch says there have been three more cases of Zika in Louisiana, bringing the total number of cases to 26, and all of them are travel-related. He says local transmission of Zika is more likely in the parishes around Lake Pontchartrain. But he encourages all Louisianans to tip and toss.
“Anyone in Louisiana once a week, please go out and make sure there’s no standing water in and around your yard and environment,” Welch said.
The bodies of two missing people along with the plane wreckage of a small sightseeing plane were pulled out of Lake Pontchartrain this morning. The Cessna went down Saturday night and the Director of Aviation at the New Orleans Lakefront Airport Ben Morris says a large crane brought the bodies and aircraft out of the water.
“The coroner’s office has picked up the remains of both the pilot and the passenger and then FAA will do their end of it, trying to determine the cause of the accident.”
Authorities have yet to identify the victims. But media reports say a passenger Briana Davis escaped and was rescued that night, but the pilot and Davis’ boyfriend, Baton Rouge tattoo artist and rapper Reginald Hilliard Jr., died in the crash. Morris says the couple chartered the airplane to do a nighttime tour of New Orleans Saturday night. He says the plane hit a thunderstorm during its approach to the airport.
“Something happened between about 150 to 200 yards offshore before the airport that put the airplane in the water.”
Morris says the cause of the crash is still under investigation. He says the families were very worried about recovering the bodies.
“The crane and the barge showed up and the divers went in. They brought the plane up rather quickly, thank god both of the bodies were on board. So now those families can have closure.”
Tropical Depression 9 in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to become Tropical Storm Hermine by this evening. Alek Krautmann with the National Weather Service says right now the area of low pressure is not expected to have an impact on Louisiana, expect for high tides along the coast in southeast Louisiana.
“We think there could be some coastal flooding of around 2 feet, perhaps higher, depending on how strong the storm gets but the track is not toward Louisiana, it has taken a northeast into the Florida coast.”
Krautmann says currently the tropical depression is moving at about 7 miles per hour to the north, northwest but later tonight we’ll see a gradual turn to the northeast. He says a ridge of high pressure is pushing it towards Florida.
“And on the east side of that ridge, we’ll have a trough of low pressure going across the eastern part of the southeast U.S. and that will help to deflect the storm to the east toward the Florida Coast. “
Krautmann says the current forecast anticipates this will remain a tropical storm as it moves toward Florida but the Hurricane Center brings it right up to 60 mile per hour strength before landfall on Thursday.
“A Category 1 hurricane is possible but it’s not the forecast at this point but we’ll have to see how it develops over the next two days.”
According to the Governor’s Office, 6,300 people applied for the Shelter At Home Program on the first day of registration. The Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Julie Baxter Payer, says the program awards up to $15,000 for basic homes repairs, so people can get back into their homes as quickly as possible.
“Plumbing, electrical, and HVAC inspection to make sure it’s safe. They’ll muck out the home if you weren’t able to do that. They will be making sure that the outside of the home is safe, broken windows are taken care of,” Payer said.
Payer says people can apply at ShelterAtHome.la.gov or call 1-800-927-0216. She says the program will not repair someone’s home completely, but it will make it livable so families can come home while they continue making repairs.
“There’s an allowance for appliances. You’ll have a living space and a space to sleep so that you can life safely and securely and continue your rebuilding,” Payer said.
Payer says this program can be used with flood insurance, FEMA assistance, and SBA loans. She says the program is open to single-family owner-occupied homes. She says although this program will not work for everyone, she encourages all flood victims to apply.
“Flood waters can’t have exceeded 24 inches above the floor of the main living area of the home, but I want to emphasize that flood water amounts higher than that may be inspected and approved on a case by case basis,” Payer said.
US Representative Garrett Graves of Baton Rouge toured the flood devastated areas of the state with Florida Congressman John Mica, and Mica then criticized FEMA for being slow to get people into temporary housing units. Graves says they understand there are 1,300 FEMA manufactured homes available around the country, but as far as he knows only one has been set up in Louisiana.
“He was wondering why anyone was in a shelter, why anyone would still stay with friends or relatives if there were other alternatives that could be provided to these folks,” Graves said.
Graves says he is not pleased that FEMA won’t let people set up the manufactured homes in their yards if they’re in a flood plain.
“FEMA should have some type of system where they can elevate these manufactured housing units in people’s yards and not send them off to some trailer park,” Graves said.
Graves is also not happy that the largest FEMA payment he’s heard of being awarded is around $8,000, and the max is $33,000. He says FEMA needs to be respectful of the fact that some of these flood victims just lost everything.
“Many of these people’s entire lives are on hold right now because they don’t have any idea where they’re going to live, what they’re going to do, how they’re going to pay for refurbishing their house, addressing the fact that they don’t have cars or clothes or whatever else,” Graves said.
According to the personal finance website Kiplinger, Louisiana is the sixth most tax-friendly state in the US. Sandra Block with Kiplinger says Louisiana’s property taxes are the third lowest in the country, and the state also did well in other categories.
“Your gas taxes are well below the national average. You do have an income tax, unlike some of the other states on our list that have no income tax, but it’s very low,” Block said.
Louisiana’s gas tax is 10 cents below the national average, and the income tax rate is about 3%. Block says Louisiana did not do well in the sales tax category, as the state sales tax is now up to 5 cents.
“Often states that have low or no income tax will have to make it up somewhere else, and very often is does come out in state and local sales taxes,” Block said.
Wyoming came in first in the study as the most tax-friendly state, and California came in last. Block says there are tradeoffs in states with lower taxes, because there are less dollars for schools, public services, and roads.
“What we’re seeing across the country is states trying to balance the desire to keep taxes low and the need to improve their infrastructure, which in a lot of states is really in bad shape,” Block said.
Between a police ambush and
historic flooding, the US Senate race has taken a backseat. But Jeremy Alford
of LaPolitics.com says the campaign should start to ramp up soon and one of the
front-runners, Republican Charles Boustany is already running ads.
“He’s up with two new commercials, and then Congressman John Fleming’s campaign just made a six figure media buy for their efforts as well,” Alford said.
Alford says a favorite to make
the run-off, Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy, is holding off on running
ads because the flooding in south Louisiana continues to dominate headlines. He
says the unofficial start date for the election cycle is usually after Labor
Day, but Republican Congressmen John Fleming and Charles Boustany are not
“John Kennedy, given his name id, can probably wait a while before he has to go up on TV, whereas you’re seeing Boustany and Fleming making an effort to not only shore up their base, but to introduce themselves to voters outside of their congressional districts,” Alford said.
Alford says with things getting
off to a slow start, we haven’t seen any secondary candidates making headway in
the race. He says there’s still 10 weeks to go before Election Day, which can
be an eternity in politics, especially in Louisiana.
“Once we start to see some many being spent on TV and some of these pieces being dropped in the mail, you’ll see that the tone of the race will change, and the electorate will be tuned in and paying attention,” Alford said.
Republican Congressman Ralph Abraham of Richland Parish and the rest of Louisiana’s Congressional delegation sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, asking for a flood relief cost-share reduction for not only the south Louisiana flood, but also the one that hit north Louisiana in March. Abraham says the feds will cover 75% of the flood response and relief costs, while state and local governments are on the hook for the other 25%.
“This is going to be a phenomenal amount of money, and just when you consider the 25%, we can’t afford it,” Abraham said.
Abraham says they are asking that the federal government cover 90% of the cost for both historic floods, leaving only state and local governments to pay 10%. He says 49 parishes were declared federal disaster areas at some point this year, and some parishes were impacted by both floods.
“I’ve had 22 of 24 of my parishes declared emergency disaster areas between these two events,” Abraham said.
Abraham says reducing the cost-share statewide will lessen the financial burden on Louisiana as the recovery effort continues. He says we got through this together, and we will be a stronger state if we rebuild together.
“Louisiana is hurting very badly. Lives have been lost, homes and businesses have been destroyed, and the recovery is going to be very, very long,” Abraham said.
On this 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, many in south Louisiana recall similar storm recovery images of what can be seen on the roads today in the aftermath of The Great Flood of 2016. Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser was the Plaquemines Parish President in 2005. He says we've learned from Katrina that rushing cleanup is not a good idea.
"The first thing that comes to mind in that regard, is that these people who are gutting their homes and want to get back in them quickly," said Nungesser. "They know to make sure the mold remediation is done and dried out well before we put those walls back up."
Overall, at least 1,245 people died in Hurricane Katrina and subsequent floods, making it the deadliest US hurricane since the 1928. 13 fatalities have been confirmed following the recent flooding, and Nungesser says it's incredible that number isn't higher.
"When you think about how quick this water came up, in areas that had never flooded," said Nungesser. "Had it not been for neighbor helping neighbor and all the great people that responded, that all went remarkably well."
Nungesser feels that FEMA is doing a great job this time around of getting to people quickly and providing information needed on what steps to take to make the rebuilding process go as smooth as possible.
He says another thing that people can learn from Katrina just by looking at the affected parishes, is how possible it is to come back stronger than ever.
"Both in flood protection...businesses are growing," said Nungesser, "We will come back from this disaster, much like we did bigger and better than we were after Katrina."
State Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Mike Strain announces pets that were separated from their owner in the flood have been moved from their mobile pet shelter to a location at the Dixon Correctional Institute in East Feliciana parish. He says the move comes as a result of a donation from the Humane Society.
“There was over $875,000 donated by the Humane Society of the United States to build a facility for this purpose at Dixon,” Strain said.
Strain says the River Center shelter was for short-term housing of these pets, and the new shelter will be better for long term care, as there will be a vet hospital on site.
“We will be moving them to the facility that was built at DCI for this purpose, where we have the labor and also the fact that there will be a veterinarian going by there daily,” Strain said.
Strain says shelter residents will still be able to see their pets once they move to the new pet shelter. He says the Department of Transportation will be offering rides everyday beginning at 9 am.
“There will be a school bus that will pick up the shelter residents in front of the Greater Baton Rouge River Center every day to bring them out to visit with their pets,” Strain said.
The Governor’s Office announces registration is now open for the Shelter At Home Program. Communications Director Richard Carbo says people can register at ShelterAtHome.la.gov or call 1-800-927-0216. He says the program awards up to $15,000 for home repairs so that people can get back into their homes quickly.
“It will not make the home fully whole or back to what it was, but it will make it livable for you while you continue in this process,” Carbo said.
Carbo says registering for FEMA does not register someone for the Shelter At Home Program. He encourages everyone to register for federal aid, but reminds people they need to apply for this program separately.
“It is a completely separate registration. So just because you’ve registered at disasterassistance.gov, you still need to register at ShelterAtHome.la.gov,” Carbo said.
Carbo says the program covers repairs such as removing debris, replacing water heaters, and making sure there’s a working bathroom and air conditioning. He says people who do not qualify for this program do have other options.
“There are still several programs that the governor has announced from mobile units to hotel rooms and things like that that are available to folks if this program isn’t the one for you,” Carbo said.
Tropical Depression 9 is in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and the latest forecast track has the developing storm moving towards Louisiana, but eventually turning and making landfall on Thursday in Florida. State climatologist Barry Keim says the National Hurricane Center has the depression strengthening into a tropical storm, but admits forecasters are having trouble predicting its intensity.
“Some of the models actually have this thing just dissolving out in the Gulf, but there’s also some potential it could become a hurricane before landfall. So that’s a pretty wide range,” Keim said.
Keim says the depression could become a tropical storm by the end of today or overnight and it should move into the center of the Gulf by tomorrow. He says it will basically be aimed at Louisiana, but a front should push the storm to the northeast.
“The most likely landfall region is probably the big bend region of Florida north of Tampa, but it has a pretty wide cone of error, ranging from about Panama City down to Ft. Myers, Florida,” Keim said.
Keim says the storm is being steered by an area of high pressure. He says although it’s not certain yet, it looks like Tropical Depression 9 will be Florida’s problem, not Louisiana’s.
“We’re really banking on this trough coming down and grabbing hold of this storm and veering it off in another direction, and most of the models are calling for that turn to actually happen,” Keim said.
Today is the 11 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and some who lost their homes in Katrina are once again dealing with another flood. Trauma psychologist with LSU Health New Orleans Dr. Jennifer Hughes worked at shelter in Baton Rouge earlier this month and spoke with several people, who moved to Baton Rouge and Lafayette after Katrina and they are once again re-living another disaster.
“They were really feeling safe up there. They were feeling like ‘I’m not going to experience another flood like Katrina,’ and then the exact same thing happens, and it came out of nowhere,” Hughes said.
Hughes says the images of this latest flood could be sparking symptoms of PTSD from current New Orleans area residents who are having flashbacks and hypervigilance. She says if anyone feels depressed, the first thing they need to do is reach out to family and friends.
“If that doesn’t feel like enough, if reaching out to those close people aren’t enough, there are different services that are in that area that can help,” Hughes said.
Hughes says the Capital Area Human Services District provides services to people dealing with PTSD, and community support will also help. She says for those who are personally impacted by these two devastating and life changing floods, this can be traumatizing.
“They were instantly retriggered about all of this and feeling very hopeless about when am I ever going to be safe from this,” Hughes said.
After Hurricane Katrina there was a huge population shift from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, will we see this trend again after the Great Flood of 2016? Demographer Greg Rigamer expects flood victims to try and rebuild where they lived prior to the flood.
“If you have an asset that still has value you do everything you can to recover it as quickly as possible, particularly when it’s your home.”
Rigamer says in the short term, we’ll see an influx of workers, some will be from out of state. But Louisiana won’t see any population gain because the oil industry continues to struggle.
“I don’t think we’ll necessarily lose population as a result of the flooding, but we certainly won’t gain any population as a result either.”
Livingston Parish was the hardest hit by the flood with close to 90% of the homes in the parish suffered flood damage. Rigamer says the recovery of Livingston will depend largely on what kind of government assistance flood victims can receive.
“It’s unreasonable to expect that government assistance will make everybody whole but the closer they get to being whole, the better it is for the community.”
Two people are dead and 30 injured after a party bus driven by an illegal resident smashed into a fire truck and other vehicles on I-10 in St. John the Baptist Parish near LaPlace. State Police Trooper Melissa Matey says the bus hit a fire truck that responded to an earlier single vehicle wreck.
"The bus was out of control, struck a fire truck that was blocking the right lane, continued on in the left lane, struck the rear of Toyota Camry," Matey said.
Matey says one of the fatal victims was District Chief Spencer Chauvin with the St. John the Baptist Fire Department.
"There were three St. John firefighters that were standing near the right guardrail, all three were struck by that bus and all three were thrown over the side of the elevated portion of the interstate," Matey said.
Matey says the bus also hit two other vehicles during the crash. A passenger in of those vehicles was also killed, 21-year-old Jermaine Starr of Moss Point, MS. She says the driver of the bus did not have a driver's license and faces criminal charges, including negligent homicide.
"We have identified the bus driver as Dennis Yasmir Amaya Rodriguez of Honduras, he's in this country illegally," Matey said.
Matey the passengers in the bus were headed to the Baton Rouge area seeking work in the flood recovery efforts. Two people, including another fire fighter, suffered critical injuries. All other injuries in this incident are considered moderate to minor.
If you had uninsured property that was destroyed by floodwaters this year, you're entitled to a refund of the state sales tax on those items. State Treasurer John Kennedy says this applies to the parishes that were federally declared disasters during the March and August floods.
"If some of your personal property was destroyed and you weren't reimbursed for it, you can at least file a form with the Department of Revenue and get the sales tax back that you paid on the destroyed property," said Kennedy.
To learn more, visit latreasury.com and click on Sales Tax Disaster Relief. Kennedy says it may not seem like much, but every little bit helps and the money will really add up.
"The state will reimburse you for the state sales tax you paid on any portion of destroyed property not reimbursed by insurance or disaster relief," said Treasurer Kennedy. "The reimbursement applies to furniture, rugs, utensils, clothing, linens, televisions, cameras, toys, exercise equipment, books and even lawn mowers."
Claims should be filed with the Louisiana Department of Revenue. Kennedy says the secretary of that department can waive documentation requirements if original receipts are not available.
The historic flooding in the southern part of the state not only destroyed thousands of homes, but greatly affected the agriculture business. Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Mike Strain says farming is a 13 billion dollar industry in Louisiana and 28 to 30 parishes were hurt by the massive rainfall.
“So far, we’re looking at upwards of $110 million and that’s directly in rice which is $33.6 million in rice, $46.7 million in soybeans.”
Strain says those are preliminary numbers and expects total losses to be anywhere from $150 to $200 million, if the rain stops now. He says some farmers have crop insurance but not all commodities or parishes allow insurance.
“Crop insurance is a very costly thing for farmers and even if you get your highest degree of crop insurance, you may only have 60 to 75% coverage.”
Strain says livestock and crawfish are not covered under crop insurance. He says they don’t have the exact numbers on how many livestock died during the flooding but they have aircraft working to connect lost livestock with their owners. The commissioner says the flooding has also caused a severe increase in the mosquito population.
“We’re now seeing surges in mosquitoes. I’m advising all of my horse owners, if you have not vaccinated your horses within six month to booster them specifically West Nile and Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis.”
Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge was a shelter for displaced flood victims and now one of the movie studios properties has become a multi-agency disaster warehouse. Mike Steele with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness says people making large donations should call ahead of time to make sure that someone is there to help unload.
“You get to a point where you have so many items coming in sometimes that it makes it difficult to know exactly what to do with them,” Steele said.
Steele says people can call 225-800-2227 to arrange a drop off any day between 9am and 5pm. He says they really need snow shovels, which are good for removing debris, but they are accepting a wide variety of items.
“Canned goods, sports drinks, personal care items, work gloves, baby diapers or anything associated with care for a baby,” Steele said.
Steele says they also need blankets, cleaning supplies, flashlights, batteries, and new kitchen items. He says right now they do not need any new or used clothes.
“It has to deal more now with some of the goods that people need cleaning up their homes and caring for their families, and just the day to day type items are really what’s needed,” Steele said.
Steele says people can find a complete list of needed items at emergency.la.gov, as well as an address to ship donations.
The drop off location is on Celtic Media Center property, but the exact address is 9550 Dawnadele Ave., Baton Rouge, LA 70809. The old Crescent Crown Facility.
State agencies are severely understaffed at a time when people need them the most. West Monroe Senator Mike Walsworth says during tough budget times, there were employment cutbacks at the Department of Children and Family Services and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, because Louisiana hasn’t seen a hurricane in several years.
“You just can’t have them sitting there saying, ‘Well, in case there’s an emergency we’ll have you on staff.’ So it’s not unusual to go down that road that you’re short staffed when there’s an emergency,” Walsworth said.
Walsworth says Louisiana is the most disaster prone state in the nation, and we need to be prepared for these kinds of events. He says they may need to look into training state retirees in case of emergencies.
“Retirees still like to work, just because they’re retired doesn’t mean they’re dead. They like to work, and they like to do things, and they like to help. So maybe we can train some of them,” Walsworth said.
Walsworth says people are still waiting on disaster food stamps, and he’s worried about kids who are not in school because if they were, they could be getting at least one good meal every day. He says DCFS is having trouble opening DSNAP locations because many of them are working at shelters.
“They had two roles, and maybe we change up their roles a little bit. Maybe they should do just SNAP, and maybe we can figure out somebody else to help out when it comes to the evacuees,” Walsworth said.
Some people have suggested that if the Comite River Diversion Project in East Baton Rouge Parish had been completed, the flooding wouldn’t have been so severe. But the Army Corps of Engineers says that’s not the case. Deputy District Commander Mark Wingate says the project would only have helped a small part of the affected region.
“Just a qualitative analysis and professional judgement, we believe maybe we would’ve reduced damages to 5% to 10% of the damaged structures if the Comite project would’ve been in place,” Wingate said.
Wingate says the project would have helped on the Comite River, but not the Amite or other rivers in the basin that also flooded. He says it would have reduced flooding in areas around Joor Road, but not very much in Denham Springs or farther south.
“We believe north of the confluence of the Comite and Amite, you’re probably talking stage reductions maybe in feet with respect to this most recent event, but unfortunately south of the confluence, it’s probably limited to inches,” Wingate said.
The Comite project would cost upwards of $220 million. Wingate says what they need is a system wide approach to prevent flooding in the region. He says flood mitigation projects are also needed along the Amite River and Bayou Manchac.
“We need to bring all this together with the Comite and see how all this would work together because it is possible you could put something in play and have negative impacts either upstream or downstream,” Wingate said.