WASHINGTON—Today, US Senator Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) rose on the Senate floor to bring further attention to the August flooding disaster in Louisiana and the relief the state desperately needs. Earlier today, Dr. Cassidy secured half a billion in initial flood relief aid in the Continuing Resolution and hopes for quick, bi-partisan approval.
“We have thousands of families that were completely caught off guard, unprepared, by no fault of their own, caught by a freak of nature thousand year flood, and are now struggling to pick up the pieces,” Dr. Cassidy said. “They are trying to make the decision, do I stay and rebuild or do I just move on?”
Read the remarks as prepared below and watch his remarks here.
Mr. President, today, I rise once again to bring attention to the devastation brought to my state of Louisiana by what is now being called the, “Great Flood of 2016.” In a matter of just a few days, 7.1 million gallons of rain fell on Louisiana, more than we saw from Hurricane Katrina. The flooding that ensued caused 8.7 billion dollars in damages to homes and businesses.
A flood event with this magnitude has such a low percent chance of happening that it has been called a “Thousand Year” flood. To put that into perspective, the last time a flood this severe would have occurred would have been 500 years before Christopher Columbus came to the New World.
Just look at this chart. This flood will be one of the most expensive disasters in US history. Except for hurricanes this is the most expensive disaster in a hundred years. The most devastating factor of this storm was how little time people had to react. The storm was missing key cyclone characteristics. Even the National Hurricane Center had no expectation for this level of devastation.
Many that were affected, never having been hit by a flood before, living in areas not at risk for flooding, felt all was well. The first parishes to be hit by the flooding had no time to evacuate or prepare. Here you can see a family being evacuated by volunteers. This is a residential street. Water is that high inside their house too and all they were able to salvage is in the bags in their hands. All their belongings now—beds, clothes, pictures, family heirlooms—are more than likely in a debris pile on the street. Meanwhile, they have to make the serious decision on whether they can afford to rebuild. This is only one family. So far, over one hundred and forty four thousand people have applied for Individual Assistance through FEMA. They need to know if that assistance is coming.
Small businesses were hit hard too. According to estimates reported by the Advocate newspaper, as many as twelve thousand Baton Rouge area businesses flooded. This picture is from Denham Springs, a town outside of Baton Rouge. A study by The National Flood Insurance Program found that close to 40 percent of businesses that flood never reopen. For the small businesses that do re-open their doors, the great cost of rebuilding can prove too great to overcome, forcing the business to close and putting any employees out of work with that.
As we list off statistics and look at the devastatingly huge scope of this disaster, it is important we remember the individuals, the human beings who have suffered through this disaster and their personal stories of how they lost everything.
This is a home in Cypress point, a small subdivision built along the Amite River, north of French Settlement. Constructed in the 2000s, the homes here were elevated above the Base Flood Elevation, which should have kept their homes safe and dry from the flooding. However, when the Amite River had a record-breaking river crest of 46 feet, the floodwaters were so high and strong they tore out the boathouses, docks, bulkheads, and ripped away upwards of 20 feet of land from underneath the northernmost properties. As you can see from this image, the flood waters swept the land completely out from under this home. The Parish is in the process of condemning 10 properties because these homes are literally floating away on the water.
Currently it is up to the individual owners to repair or tear down their homes. To make the situation worse, they will need permits from the Corps of Engineers to restore what they lost and if their home falls into the river, they will have to also finance the additional cost of removing them.
Now I want to remind y’all, these homes were built above the Base Flood Elevation. As far as these homeowners knew, their homes were safe from flooding.
This is Dorothy Brooks—she is 78 years old—being rescued from her home, through three feet of floodwater, by Tangipahoa Sheriff’s Office Sargent Thomas Wheeler. Dorothy, who relies on a wheelchair, did not have the time, let alone the ability to prepare her home for the rapid flooding. Many seniors like Dorothy returned to their homes, but due to their age, are unable to carry out the labor necessary to properly clear out their homes to prevent the spread of mold.
Roy and Vera Rodney, both in their 80s, had 4 inches of water enter their house. The FEMA inspector told them their home was habitable so they were denied repairs and rental assistance. With no family in town to help them gut and repair their house, they were forced to let all of their water damaged carpet, furniture and belongings just sit. It didn’t take long for mold to appear and their house became too unhealthy to live in. They evacuated to distant family. While there, they were not available to have volunteers gut their home, so they had to reschedule. In the weeks they were forced to wait, their home remained ungutted and mold spread everywhere. Because they could not get the aid they needed, their cost of recovery only grew with time.
Roy and Vera were not required to purchase flood insurance, because they live in “Zone X” which is considered to have a low risk for flooding.
That is a huge factor in this disaster that many overlook. About 80 percent of the homes that were flooded did not have flood insurance, not because the homeowners were negligent, but because they lived in a low risk area and were not required to purchase insurance. These are flood-affected areas that have never flooded, not in a thousand years.
This is why providing federal aid is so critical. We have thousands of families that were completely caught off guard, unprepared, by no fault of their own, caught by a freak of nature thousand-year flood, and are now struggling to pick up the pieces. They are trying to make the decision, do I stay and rebuild or do I just move on?
Families, businesses, our state needs help. We need to pass funding quickly. People are hurting now. People need help now.
Some look at this picture and just see debris piled up on the street. But these are people’s lives collected on the side of a roadway, their belongings, and their memories.
I am glad that a down payment was included in the Continuing Resolution released today. This is critical to ensuring that families will be able to recover, rebuild and prosper. However, we are not done yet. Helping each other is a fundamental American value, I urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to support this legislation – to help families faced with losing their homes and everything. To help folks pick up the pieces and put their lives back together. To Americans across the country, please call your Senators and ask them to support Dorothy, Roy, Vera and so many other families and businesses in Louisiana.
Thank you, I yield back