Following last month's historic flooding in Louisiana, how are officials working to stimulate reconstruction efforts? On today's The Cutting Edge, ClimateWire reporter Emily Holden, who recently returned from reporting on the flooding, discusses one parish's efforts to ease reconstruction rules.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. Following last month's historic flooding in Louisiana, ClimateWire's Emily Holden is back from the region from reporting on steps the region is taking to rebuild. Emily, thank you for joining me. Emily, I know that you have family in the region that was affected by the flooding.
Emily Holden: That's right. So I was back there helping and reporting at the same time with my family's house. My parents' house and my grandmother's house actually got between 18 inches and 24 inches. My mom and grandmother evacuated by boat, which just goes to show how unexpected this was. People did not realize how bad it was going to be.
At the end of the day about 60,000 homes were damaged, 110,000 people applied for federal aid. On the ground it's easier to understand what a devastating sort of disaster this is. People have lost everything from family heirlooms to their cars, and just going through that one piece at a time, both emotionally and physically, is so hard to see. There's so much that you've lost and so little that you can actually salvage.
Monica Trauzzi: You reported earlier this week on central Louisiana's plans to rebuild. What are officials there doing to stimulate the reconstruction efforts?
Emily Holden: Well, essentially they want to roll back all of their local requirements about how high you have to build a new and modified structure. Actually the city parish of East Baton Rouge is looking at doing the same thing, but a lot of people will still have to elevate their homes off the ground according to federal requirements.
Monica Trauzzi: Why is there such an eagerness to rebuild in these areas that are prone to this type of flooding?
Emily Holden: I think in this particular situation there really was a sense of people in Louisiana that this was a freak accident that couldn't happen again. It was so much rain in such a short amount of time and just rain; not a hurricane like people in Louisiana are used to.
People, they've been through so much. They want a return to normalcy. They want to be around their neighbors. They want to have their kids in the same school districts. A lot of people have lived in these places their entire lives and they don't see any reason to leave, even if it means that they could risk being in a flood again.
Monica Trauzzi: So as you spoke to the residents of Central, what was the reaction to the federal government's response and do they feel adequately supported?
Emily Holden: I don't think so. I think there's largely a sense that the national media has not been paying enough attention to this and that also policymakers are not really aware of the local problems or how big of a problem this is and how difficult it's going to be to recover.
One woman I spoke with in Central basically told me that she felt that they had been ignored and screwed. People are not happy with the process of applying for aid. They say it's been very bureaucratic and difficult. They're really not happy with federal requirements about how high they have to rebuild their homes or where they can put FEMA trailers, for example.
Monica Trauzzi: There are some critical policy questions surrounding the federal flood insurance program and reforming that as a result of this flood. How is Washington reacting to yet another extreme weather event?
Emily Holden: Well, Congress has actually been out of session until this week. I think there's a sense of this is a little bit of a new normal and it's only adding to calls to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, which is already very deeply in debt from paying out policies to people who flooded in previous hurricanes and storms.
It's not just an easy policy problem to solve. The options there are to either make people build higher so you have less of a flood risk, have more people in the program, have more people required to have flood insurance or charge more for flood insurance. None of those options would be very politically expedient.
Monica Trauzzi: Thanks, Emily. Thanks for your reporting.
Emily Holden: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.
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