BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says there are more than 10,000 evacuees staying in hotels around the state following Hurricane Laura, most of them in the New Orleans area.
There are also still more than 324,000 still without power across the state, the governor said during an afternoon briefing Monday on the state’s response to the storm.
The governor also reiterated his warning from Sunday that residents are in for a long recovery.
“This is going to be a very different storm to recover from. It’s going to take some time because the damage was so extensive and so catastrophic.”
The biggest issues remain lack of power and water system outages, particularly in hardest-hit Southwest Louisiana. While power is expected to be restored within a few days in central and northern parts of the state, Edwards warned it could be three weeks before power is restored across Southwest Louisiana.
On top of that, heat and humidity pose an additional challenge to those working to assess and repair damage, which a heat index of 105 to 108 forecast for the next few days.
The National Guard remains fully activated, Edwards said, with just over 6,200 on the ground in support of hurricane recovery efforts including distributing water, food, ice, and tarps to those in need.
As part of the state’s plan for housing evacuees amid the coronavirus pandemic by limiting sheltering in congregant settings as much as possible, Edwards also announced the revival of the Army Corps of Engineers Operation Blue Roof program for Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis, and Vernon parishes. He said more may be added as the federal major disaster declaration grows.
A free service to homeowners, Operation Blue Roof protects property, reduces temporary housing costs, and allows residents to remain in their homes while recovering from the storm. To sign up for the program, residents can click here or call or 1-888-766-3258.
Edwards said the use of hotel rooms for evacuees is a welcome shot in the arm for the industry, which had been suffering from the loss of tourism and travel because of COVID-19.
Edwards believes the current contracts for evacuees will last 30 days but may then be extended through the use of vouchers.
Edwards also announced Monday that the state has set up a new website to track Hurricane Laura recovery at hurricanelaura.la.gov.
In addition, Gov. Edwards urged people to “please consider a generous donation” to the Red Cross or the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana Hurricane Relief and Recovery Fund to help fill the gap for those in urgent need until federal disaster assistance funding can begin rolling in.
During the briefing, Baton Rouge Area Foundation Brian Spain explained that they are gathering all funds donated for the Southwest Louisiana and will put it back almost immediately into those communities where it is needed most. Spain said they expect to star making grants available as early as Monday afternoon.
So far, 18 deaths in Texas and Louisiana have been attributed to the storm; more than half of those people were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from the unsafe operation of generators. Edwards said Monday afternoon that there were no new storm-related deaths to report but urged those using generators to use them as instructed, outside the home and away from windows.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent hundreds of workers to the region to help with search and rescue and other efforts. As of Sunday, more than 52,500 people had applied for FEMA assistance, and the agency had conducted over 200 home inspections and distributed more than $650,000 in assistance, said Tony Robinson, FEMA’s administrator for the region. The Louisiana National Guard, meanwhile, had handed out hundreds of thousands of bottles of water and meals and about 14,000 tarps, the governor said.
The Category 4 hurricane, which made landfall Thursday just south of Lake Charles near Cameron, Louisiana, before abating nearly 12 hours later, packed 150-mph (240-kph) winds and a storm surge that officials said was as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters) in some areas.