Now We Rebuild
Hurricane Ida was the fourth strongest hurricane in American history. Fortunately, the investment in levees spared most but not all of the metro area from flooding. The problem with building levees is that storm surge must go somewhere. When the Laplace section of levees is complete, the Mandeville lakefront will be vulnerable leading to more north shore flooding. The next area that will be vulnerable to flooding can be predicted by monitoring the progress of levee construction. This makes flood insurance even more important because areas that have never flooded will be more vulnerable in the future.
Evacuating is expensive and rebuilding, especially if you suffered water damage, is even more expensive. The first step after immediate gutting and mold remediation is to assemble all the resources that are available to help defray the costs. The first place to look is your insurance company. Louisiana Insurance commissioner James Donelon has ordered insurers pay for evacuation expenses, even if evacuation was not mandatory.
The second place to look is FEMA. The agency will replace food lost in refrigerators and freezers up to $500. Through the Army Corps of Engineers it will provide tarps and assistance with costs of generators and evacuations. The best way to reach FEMA is through their internet site, disasterassistance.gov. There is also a call-in number, 1-800-621-3362, but unfortunately, they did not adequately staff the call center, so the wait times have been very long.
The next place to look is the Small Business Administration. Loans to homeowners are available up to $200,000 and up to $40,000 for renters. These loans are at a relatively low cost with rates of 1.563%. Loans to businesses and nonprofits are available up to $2 million at rates of 2.855% for business and 2% for nonprofits. In addition, if you remediate or harden your locations you are eligible for an additional 10% or $200,000 in loan amount.
These are loans, not grants, and are seldom forgiven by the government. So, if you take one of these loans, borrow only what you need to get back on your feet.
Finally, when you rebuild, plan for future flooding. At our local level, this means replacing carpet with tile floors, moving electrical equipment to higher levels, landscaping with plants like crepe myrtles instead of pine trees and when possible replacing sheetrock with cement board, Hardie board or painted cement block walls in flood prone areas.
This is also a good time to revisit your hurricane plan. I wish that we could emulate our French ancestors and take the month of August off and out of town. Absent that, we can plan to have an empty freezer in August, a dedicated evacuation savings account, a pre-arranged place to go and adequate insurance to cover possible losses. Better-prepared customers created a dedicated fund to pay for the named storm deductible, which can be up to as much as ten percent of the homeowner's property value.
As this year’s storm season winds down, let us work to rebuild and to be better prepared for the next storm. This is a community wide disaster. If you are one of the fortunate ones with little damage, please consider helping others who were not so fortunate. Help comes in many forms. It could be labor to rebuild, meals delivered or financial assistance through a reputable local nonprofit such as Second Harvest Food Bank.