Today, US Senator Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) delivered remarks to bring attention to the recent flooding disaster in Louisiana and the $8.7 billion in damage it caused. He also addressed his coordination with the Louisiana Congressional delegation to secure recovery assistance for the state.
The delegation is working to secure a 90-to-10 recovery cost-share ratio between FEMA and the state, as well as expedited authorization and funding to build the Comite River Diversion, among other mitigation projects, to rebuild and reduce the damage from future storms.
FEMA has already documented over 60,000 homes that were significantly damaged during the flooding. That number is expected to increase to more than 110,000 homes. Less than 20,000 of those families and individuals had flood insurance. The flooding occurred in areas that are more than 50 feet above sea level, where people were told they were not in a flood zone or at low-risk of flooding.
Watch Dr. Cassidy’s remarks here.
Dr. Cassidy’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Mr. President I rise today to discuss the thousand year flood that hit my state of Louisiana a few weeks ago. In what has been termed the “Great Flood of 2016,” 13 people lost their lives and more than 8.7 billion dollars in damages occurred in just a few days.
Now, there is no substitute for witnessing the aftermath of this disaster yourself, but today I will attempt to paint a picture for you of the damage this terrible event caused and the situation from which my constituents are currently trying to rebuild and recover.
This was an unprecedented weather event. The National Weather Service deemed this a once in a thousand year event. No one was prepared. Less than a quarter of the population even had flood insurance. The flooding occurred in areas that are more than 50 feet above sea level, where people were told they were not in a flood zone or at low-risk of flooding.
Thursday afternoon, residents were warned of possible flash flooding from a weather system that was moving into the area. But even the National Hurricane Center had no expectation for how truly devastating this storm would be. It was missing key cyclone characteristics and these parishes, never having been hit by a flood before, felt all was well. The first parishes to be hit by the flooding had no time to evacuate or prepare.
In just the first two days, as much as two feet of rain fell on Southern Louisiana cities. This record rainfall had a 0.1 percent chance of occurring, thus the historic “1,000-year” weather event. In part of Livingston Parish, within 15 hours, 31 inches of rain had fallen. By the end of the third day, the capital city Baton Rouge recorded 19.14 inches of rain, Denham Springs recorded 24.75 inches of rain, and Watson, La. saw 31.39 inches of rain.
We were pummeled with 3 times more rain than we saw from Hurricane Katrina. Our record-breaking rainfall quickly led to record-breaking river crests. For example, the National Weather Service recorded the Amite River’s height at 46.20 feet—five feet higher than the last record set in 1983. The Comite River crested at 34.22 feet, four feet higher than the previous record. As water poured out of these overflowing river systems, currents were so strong 14 stream gauges, which are used to measure the heights and currents of rivers—broke.
When the rain ended, thirteen people had been found dead:
Linda Coco Bishop
Richard James Jr.
And two who have not yet been identified.
Many of them had been swept out in the current of the waters. Most were completely caught off guard by the speed with which the flooding occurred. These parishes are more than 50 feet above sea level, flooding is rarely, if ever, seen here.
The majority of the 20 parishes that were declared federal disaster areas were considered a ‘low-risk’ for flooding. In Louisiana, only about 12 percent of homeowners living in low-risk flood zones have flood insurance.
FEMA has already documented over 60,000 homes that were significantly damaged during the flooding. That number is expected to increase to more than 110,000 homes. Less than 20,000 of those families and individuals had flood insurance. After three days of heavy rain, 20 parishes, one-third of the state, were declared federal disaster areas. Among those, East Baton Rouge had 35 percent of its homes and businesses damaged in the flooding. While Ascension and Livingston parishes had about 90 percent of their homes significantly damaged or declared a total loss.
Walking the streets of these areas now, people’s entire lives are lined up in trash piles on the curb. Imagine almost 100,000 people having to start from scratch. Imagine yourself, right now, owning only the clothes on your back and a waterlogged house that is going to cost more to repair than you can hope to repay.
Now, we are in crisis. A significant amount of our state’s population has lost everything. In many cities thousands of people had to be rescued by boat or airlifted from their homes. They took nothing with them, forced to leave everything behind.
Thankfully, our community is strong. Neighbors are helping neighbors slowly put the pieces back together. But we are still facing challenges in repairing infrastructure, sending kids back to school and disposing of the large amounts of debris.
We are still in hurricane season. We don’t know what might come next, but another storm hitting Louisiana, before recovery is complete, could be devastating.
Right now, my office is working in tandem with the entire Louisiana Congressional Delegation and the Governor on securing expedited authorization and funding to build the Comite River Diversion and other mitigation projects, which are crucial for rebuilding and preventing this level of damage from occurring again in future storms.
Remembering that our state has experienced severe flooding in 36 parishes in less than six months, our delegation is requesting a 90-to-10 percent cost-share between FEMA and the state. We are also asking for a supplemental appropriation of Disaster Recovery Community Development Block Grant funds to help with the long-term recovery process.
Louisianans will work tirelessly, as we have for weeks, to rebuild. We have been lucky to have volunteers from out of the state come to Louisiana to help those in need. Hopefully today, by increasing awareness of this disaster more people are encouraged to volunteer and donate in order to help recovery efforts succeed.