The disasters wrought by the "thousand-year flood" that hit Baton Rouge and 19 other Louisiana parishes will take months — if not years — to ameliorate, but if there's one bit of good news, it's that just about everyone involved in the first response did their jobs well. Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration was steady and strong. FEMA Director Craig Fugate got help to the region with a minimum of red tape. The Louisiana National Guard sprang into action, and the "Cajun Navy" (citizens in private watercraft) proved to be genuine heroes by performing innumerable rescues.
It was gratifying to see New Orleanians spring into action as well. In the first hours after the flooding, caravans of trucks with much-needed supplies and food headed west on Interstate 10, and it seemed every business in town was pitching in with time, money or by collecting donations. "We feel your pain" has become a cliche, but we know the pain of our neighbors in the flooded parishes. We also know like no one else that flooded residents face a long road back; when the TV cameras leave, the recovery will still be in its infancy.
In an Aug. 23 letter to the president, Edwards estimated "well over" 100,000 houses were damaged or destroyed (in addition to more than 29,000 homes damaged or destroyed in the March flood). Among the requests Edwards made was to have Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds available for rebuilding homes and neighborhoods. WWL Radio reported that FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) had 26,000 claims from across the state as of Aug. 23. President Barack Obama visited flooded areas and promised not to let the nation forget. One way to keep that promise would be to push for a stronger NFIP. Perhaps it's time for Congress to consider requiring flood insurance on all residential properties, not just those in designated flood zones. Many if not most of the homes flooded in this disaster were outside those zones.
As longtime New Orleanians know, the problems just begin as the water recedes. We can't let our support stop with the initial rush of donations and volunteerism. The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank was hard-hit, with more than 4 feet of water, and food banks around the state are sending supplies to affected parishes. In New Orleans, Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana delivered 280,000 pounds of supplies in the first days after the storm and is still collecting financial donations as well as canned food and cleaning supplies at its facility at 700 Edwards Ave. in Elmwood.
The United Way of Southeast Louisiana also is seeking donations, particularly cleaning supplies (no clothing or furniture) and monetary contributions. To learn how you can help United Way, go to the group's website (www.unitedwaysela.org/flood). The Great Flood of 2016 is a tragedy, but it's also an opportunity for New Orleanians to repay our neighbors' many kindnesses of 11 years ago this week.