Governor and other La. officials testify before Congress on flood recovery

Gov. and other La. officials speak before congressional subcommittee on flood recovery - 6 p.m.
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

WASHINGTON, DC (WAFB) - Gov. John Bel Edwards and other Louisiana officials testified before lawmakers in Washington, D.C. on Friday at a congressional subcommittee hearing related to the response to the flooding disaster.

The governor asked Congress to approve $2 billion in federal aid to help the state recover from historic flooding.

"South Louisiana received more rain in 48 hours than the Mississippi River discharges into the Gulf of Mexico in 18 days," Edwards said. "Estimates show that a minimum of $8.7 billion in losses have been sustained in the state of Louisiana in housing and economic impact and that does not include public infrastructure damage."

Mayors from Central, Walker and Denham Springs also testified, airing their complaints to the committee, most of which centered on what they call a poor response from FEMA and widespread miscommunication on how best to move forward. While they said some people do care, the complaints far outweigh the compliments.

"I should not have to go to the governor's office with individual problems presented to me by my citizens," said Central Mayor Junior Shelton. "We should have contact, constant contact with FEMA."

"There's too many rules. There's too much of an effort to make this a cookie cutter approach," said Walker Mayor Rick Ramsey. "I've heard 100 times 'look how much we've improved since Katrina'. In all due respect, I see no improvement."

For many hard hit areas, the burning question is whether residents will have to raise their homes. It is something Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry said could have catastrophic results.

"Make FEMA change the mitigation piece because if I had 3,000 homes that had more than 18 inches of water and they are deemed substantially damaged, they want us to elevate them. That will be the death of my city," Landry added.

"My experience with FEMA representatives on the ground is that they're actually caring people that feel the hurt and the needs of citizens of our area," Ramsey added. "The problem is their hands are tied."

Most of the questions and concerns were directed at Tony Robinson, the regional administrator for FEMA, and those testifying did not hold back with their criticism.

Even congressmen said they are not happy with FEMA's response.

"We will keep dragging you up here in front of this committee because we hear it's all good and then when it happens it ain't so good," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz. "We expect some real answers and some real dates. We are going to watch this every single step of the way but I tell you what your first three weeks FEMA, not so good."

Perhaps no one was more passionate than Congressman Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, who said response has to be taken more seriously and Louisiana must be a priority to the federal government.

"Hell yes. You don't have a disaster like this and not step in and tailor the response," Graves said. "There's this unbelievable perception out there that the cost of inaction is free. To continue to drag these guys around, not give them answers and not give them what they want it's completely unacceptable."

In a final push for improvement, Shelton said Louisiana's people are resilient but they need help now more than ever.

"They're proud but they're broken and they're hopeful but they are shaken," Shelton added. "I'm here today pleading with you please help these people. These are American families looking for help."

In a news release Friday, FEMA announced it has spent more than $1 billion in recovery efforts so far in the wake of the recent flood event.

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