BATON ROUGE, LA — Six months after Hurricane Isaac slammed into the Gulf coast, Louisianians are starting to make the transition from "survive" to "thrive." Hard-hit communities are planning how to build back better than ever even as their residents are working to get their lives back on track.
The hurricane may have left a trail of muck and misery through Louisiana after it hit in late August, but the hard work of survivors, their families and community leaders, plus hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal assistance, have made a significant contribution to the state's recovery.
"Every day, Louisiana's residents, families, businesses and communities make progress in getting their lives back to normal after Hurricane Isaac's devastating winds, rains and floods," said Federal Coordinating Officer Gerard M. Stolar of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "There is much work still to do, but their efforts show their resilience and their determination to come back better than ever."
Today, disaster assistance has topped $506 million. This includes:
• More than $129.8 million in grants from FEMA's Individual Assistance (IA) program,
• Nearly $160.7 million in low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and
• More than $215.5 million in reimbursements to the state and local governments , educational institutions, community services and public safety organizations from FEMA's Public Assistance (PA) program.
Public Assistance, in conjunction with its state and local partners, continues to move forward as it helps Louisiana's storm-ravaged parishes meet the challenges of repairing damaged infrastructure and covering the costs of debris cleanup and emergency measures taken before, during and after the storm to protect the lives and safety of Louisianians.
Those Public Assistance reimbursement dollars, while awarded to eligible government entities and nonprofits throughout the state, benefit everyone - neighborhoods, parishes and cities. PA dollars help clean up communities overwhelmed by disaster-related debris, repair roads and bridges people use every day getting to work, ensure hospitals, fire stations and other vital community services are restored, put utilities and water systems back in order and restore playground equipment to public parks.
While dollar amounts are an important part of Louisiana's recovery, they do not tell the full story of the state and federal family's commitment to the state since the hurricane drenched, flooded and otherwise damaged the state.
As survivors continue to repair or rebuild their homes, their businesses and their lives, long-term recovery groups have been hard at work in 15 storm-damaged parishes. FEMA's Voluntary Agency Liaisons work closely with these groups, which are formed from a network of nonprofit and voluntary agencies and faith- and community-based organizations and help survivors meet their longer-term needs.
Although many survivors are well on their way to restoring their homes and property, recovery does not occur at the same pace for everyone. FEMA, the state, the private sector and voluntary agencies continue to collaborate to find ways to help.
Meanwhile, a continuing state-administered crisis counseling program serves adults and children who need help identifying ways to deal with the stresses of surviving and recovering from a hurricane.
FEMA support personnel also are working to help survivors through the new National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), activated for the first time in the state of Louisiana. Like the disaster's very first response efforts, extended recovery and revitalization require a united effort starting at the local level. As communities envision their futures and prioritize their needs and wants, they can draw on expertise and resources from a variety of state and federal agencies.
Community involvement began early. Just weeks after the Aug. 29 disaster declaration, two parishes named local disaster recovery managers and the state named Mark Riley as its disaster recovery coordinator. Wayne Rickard of FEMA was appointed the federal disaster recovery coordinator under the NDRF.
In late January, St. John Parish, which sustained severe damage from Hurricane Isaac, held its first public open houses to map the course of the community's recovery. At these events, residents contributed ideas and received information about how they could help rebuild their parish. In hard-hit Plaquemines Parish, a similar community initiative is in its early stages.
"It's exciting to see the ideas and energy in the local initiatives," Rickard said. "And as other Louisiana communities begin planning for future disasters, they can also call on a wealth of state and federal resources for support and assistance."