HUD Sec. Dr. Ben Carson praises Louisiana's recovery efforts; some residents remain critical

DENHAM SPRINGS, LA (WAFB) - It's been a while since Dr. Ben Carson has visited south Louisiana, but he returned to the area Monday to tour areas hit hard by last year's historic flood and check in on how the state is handling the HUD dollars allocated to help.

Dr. Carson actually hasn't been in the Capital area since 2015, which was before he was named secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). He was scheduled to hold a press conference at 4:15 p.m. about his trip, but that was pushed back as the schedule got slightly behind.

During this trip, he toured Denham Springs housing with Mayor Gerard Landry, Congressman Garret Graves, US Sen. John Kennedy and Governor John Bel Edwards.

"I would like to thank Sec. Carson and his wife, Candy, for accepting my invitation to come down to Louisiana to tour the flood damage and witness firsthand the efforts being made by local, state, and federal officials to recover, fully, from the devastating flood last year," said Sen. Kennedy.  "It is imperative that we continue to work together, both at the local and national level, to make sure our communities have every avenue available to rebuild stronger than ever."

Carson began his remarks by praising Louisiana for being resilient during the past year and complimenting state leadership on the job done to recover.

"Of all the states, I don't think any has more experience in dealing with disasters than Louisiana," Carson said.

Prior to the news conference, Carson toured Charlotte Rimes's home on highway 16 in Denham Springs. Rimes still has a long way to go in her fight to make her Denham Springs home whole again.

"I'm going to have to do some patching here, patching on that side over there and patching in the laundry room," she said.

Rimes says her home is still in shambles and the kitchen sink is still the one installed with the state's Shelter at Home Program. She believes that is unacceptable a year later.

"It's been horrid," she said. "Nothing's right. I mean this is a house but it's not a home yet. We've started it but it's not completed."

When the FEMA dollars started to dry up, she found comfort in the Restore Louisiana Program but she hasn't been exactly pleased with its speed.

Rimes still has a lot of work left to do inside her home and is hoping the Restore Louisiana funds will be the lifeline she needs. For now though, her belongings are still boxed up in her backyard.

"We're still sleeping on some blow up mattresses," Rimes added.

The 68-year-old had the ear of local, state and federal leaders Monday as Carson toured her home as part of his South Louisiana visit.

Despite being invited and told it would be open to the media in an official communication from Carson's office last week, the media was not allowed inside during the HUD secretary's tour. Afterwards it was all smiles for Carson. At a news conference immediately following, the head of Housing and Urban Development said so far he was happy with Louisiana's recovery.

"I've been very impressed by what's been going on here," Carson said. "Like I said before, nobody's had as much experience as Louisiana in dealing with floods and dealing with natural disasters and they've done a good job."

For the most part, Carson believes the state has handled recovery well and he would even like to see local efforts modeled in other areas.

"There's a lot of knowledge here that can be spread around to the rest of the country," said Carson.

He admits there are problems with federal aid and says they are working to speed up the process by cutting regulations; however, when asked which regulations need to be axed, the secretary was not very specific.

"There's a long, long, long list of regulations. That's the very reason that executive order 13771 and 13777 were brought about and they go across all the agencies in government and those are the kinds of things where you will start to see some results very, very quickly," said Carson.

Rimes says she is simply tired of the process and just wants her home back by the holidays.

"I don't need fancy. I just need a kitchen," she said. "I mean we're not far from Thanksgiving and I want my family here."

Earlier in the day, Carson and his wife met with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) to talk about ongoing flood recovery efforts and steps to make the state more resilient in the future.

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Carson also met with a number of area leaders to discuss homelessness in south Louisiana. He's expected to visit the New Orleans area Tuesday before heading back to Washington.

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