Louisiana Flooding Victims Now Struggling With Where to Live

Lake Arthur residents receive help from the Army National Guard to build sandbag wall to keep flood waters from Lake Arthur, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

DENHAM SPRINGS, La.—Keisha Taylor, a 37-year-old mother of four, has spent three nights in two different shelters since her family fled the flooding at their Baton Rouge apartment complex. And she doesn’t know how many more nights they will be sleeping on cots inside the downtown arena where hundreds sought shelter.

Taylor probably could stay with relatives in White Castle, a town about 30 miles west of Louisiana’s capital city, but three of her kids are enrolled in Baton Rouge schools that could reopen next week.

“This is where I live. I need to be home,” she said.

Taylor is one of thousands of people across southern Louisiana displaced by catastrophic flooding and now struggling with where to live.

With an estimated 40,000 homes damaged by deadly flooding, Louisiana could be looking at its biggest housing crunch since the miserable, bumbling aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a decade ago.

For the Baton Rouge area, it was a blow on top of what has already been a tough summer starting with the shooting death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling on July 5. The death of Sterling, a black man, at the hands of two white police officers incited widespread protests in which nearly 200 people were arrested.

Brock Thibodeaux along with volunteers continue to fill sand bags to stop flood waters from rising in Lake Arthur, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Brock Thibodeaux along with volunteers continue to fill sand bags to stop flood waters from rising in Lake Arthur, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Lake Arthur, La., residents receive help from the Army National Guard to build sand bag wall to keep flood waters from the city on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Lake Arthur, La., residents receive help from the Army National Guard to build sand bag wall to keep flood waters from the city on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Second Lt. Dakota Jude and Army National Guard members help place sandbags to protect the city hall in Lake Arthur, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Second Lt. Dakota Jude and Army National Guard members help place sandbags to protect the city hall in Lake Arthur, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Lake Arthur residents receive help from the Army National Guard to build sandbag wall to keep flood waters from Lake Arthur, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Lake Arthur residents receive help from the Army National Guard to build sandbag wall to keep flood waters from Lake Arthur, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Dylan Heinan, among other volunteers, piles sandbags in an effort to stop flood waters from rising in Lake Arthur, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Dylan Heinan, among other volunteers, piles sandbags in an effort to stop flood waters from rising in Lake Arthur, La., Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Terry Brewer, left, and Timothy Harris pile up debris outside a flooded auto parts store in Albany, La. on  Aug 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Kevin McGill)

Terry Brewer, left, and Timothy Harris pile up debris outside a flooded auto parts store in Albany, La. on Aug 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Kevin McGill)

A growing pile of debris sits outside the flood-ravaged home of Carolyn and James Smith in Denham Springs, La. on Wednesday, Aug 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Kevin McGill)

A growing pile of debris sits outside the flood-ravaged home of Carolyn and James Smith in Denham Springs, La. on Wednesday, Aug 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Kevin McGill)

Residents take pets and belonging out of their homes in the flood hit areas around Walker, La., on Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Residents take pets and belonging out of their homes in the flood hit areas around Walker, La., on Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

The Louisiana National Guard transports people out of flood hit areas around Walker , La., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

The Louisiana National Guard transports people out of flood hit areas around Walker , La., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Motorists try to navigate deep water flowing over a road in Walker, La., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Motorists try to navigate deep water flowing over a road in Walker, La., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

An American flag hangs in the water next to a for sale sign in flood waters in Walker, La., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. Flood waters continued to cause problems throughout the area. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

An American flag hangs in the water next to a for sale sign in flood waters in Walker, La., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. Flood waters continued to cause problems throughout the area. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Adam Cross, left, and Dewayne Daily move sandbags in a wheel barrel near a levy located in the River Oaks neighborhood in Lafayette, La., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (Gabe Hernandez/Corpus Christi Caller-Times via AP)

Adam Cross, left, and Dewayne Daily move sandbags in a wheel barrel near a levy located in the River Oaks neighborhood in Lafayette, La., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (Gabe Hernandez/Corpus Christi Caller-Times via AP)

Dee Vazquez, from left, helps Georgette Centelo and her grandfather Lawrence Roberts after they tried to recover their belongings from a family mobile home in Central, north of Baton Rouge, La., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (David Grunfeld/NOLA.com The Times-Picayune via AP)

Dee Vazquez, from left, helps Georgette Centelo and her grandfather Lawrence Roberts after they tried to recover their belongings from a family mobile home in Central, north of Baton Rouge, La., Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (David Grunfeld/NOLA.com The Times-Picayune via AP)

People arrive an area, to be evacuated by members of the Louisiana Army National Guard near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

People arrive an area, to be evacuated by members of the Louisiana Army National Guard near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Members of the Louisiana Army National Guard rescue people from rising floodwater after heavy rains inundated the region near Walker, La., on Aug. 14. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Members of the Louisiana Army National Guard rescue people from rising floodwater after heavy rains inundated the region near Walker, La., on Aug. 14. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

People wade in water near flood damaged homes in Youngsville, La., on Aug. 14. Torrential rains swamped parts of southern Louisiana, causing widespread flooding. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

People wade in water near flood damaged homes in Youngsville, La., on Aug. 14. Torrential rains swamped parts of southern Louisiana, causing widespread flooding. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Sgt. Brad Stone of the Louisiana Army National Guard helps load people stranded by rising floodwater onto a truck near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Sgt. Brad Stone of the Louisiana Army National Guard helps load people stranded by rising floodwater onto a truck near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Kevin Richmond, left, and Barbara Manuel and her two children Elliott, 8, center, and Emily, 5, right, near Walker, La., Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Kevin Richmond, left, and Barbara Manuel and her two children Elliott, 8, center, and Emily, 5, right, near Walker, La., Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Members of the Louisiana Army National Guard rescue people from rising floodwater near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Members of the Louisiana Army National Guard rescue people from rising floodwater near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

People arrive to be evacuated by members of the Louisiana Army National Guard near Walker, La., Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

People arrive to be evacuated by members of the Louisiana Army National Guard near Walker, La., Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Members of the Louisiana Army National Guard unload people at a rally point after they were rescued from rising floodwater near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Members of the Louisiana Army National Guard unload people at a rally point after they were rescued from rising floodwater near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Danielle Blount carries her 3-month-old baby Ember to a truck from the Louisiana Army National Guard as they evacuate the area near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Danielle Blount carries her 3-month-old baby Ember to a truck from the Louisiana Army National Guard as they evacuate the area near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

A Coast Guard helicopter prepares to land as members of the Louisiana Army National Guard arrive at a rally point with rescued people from rising floodwater near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

A Coast Guard helicopter prepares to land as members of the Louisiana Army National Guard arrive at a rally point with rescued people from rising floodwater near Walker, La., after heavy rains inundated the region, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Then on July 17, a lone gunman shot and killed three law enforcement officers and wounded three others outside a Baton Rouge convenience store. The suspect, Gavin Long, an Army veteran from Kansas City, Missouri, was killed by police. The dead officers all had lived in the area of Denham Springs, a quiet bedroom community near Baton Rouge.

Then the rains hit.

People now are staying in shelters, bunking with friends or relatives, or sleeping in trailers on their front lawns. Others unable or unwilling to leave their homes are living amid mud and the ever-present risk of mold in the steamy August heat.

Many victims will need an extended place to stay while they rebuild. Countless others didn’t have flood insurance and may not have the means to repair their homes.

“I got nowhere else to go,” said Thomas Lee, 56, who ekes out a living as a drywall hanger—a skill that will come in handy. His sodden furniture is piled curbside and the drywall in his rented house is puckering, but Thomas still plans to keep living there, sleeping on an air mattress.

Exactly how many will need temporary housing is unclear, but state officials are already urging landlords to allow short-term leases and encouraging people to rent out any empty space available.

Terri Ricks, deputy secretary for the Department of Children and Family Services, which helps organize sheltering efforts in parishes, said the state is talking with parishes about possibly running a long-term shelter in the region if needed to give people a place to stay while they repair and rebuild.

“Nobody wants to do a long-term shelter,” she said. “We want to get people in a more permanent situation.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose very name became a punchline during Katrina, said it will look into lining up rental properties for those left homeless and will consider using temporary housing units.

But FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate gave assurances that the temporary units won’t be the old FEMA travel trailers—a reference to the ones brought in after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that were found to have toxic levels of formaldehyde.

The flooding that struck the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas left at least 13 people dead. More than 30,000 have been rescued, and at least 70,000 have registered for federal disaster assistance. At the height, 11,000 people were in shelters, though that figured dropped to 6,000 by Wednesday.

Those with flood insurance will be in a much better place to begin rebuilding—but there won’t be many of them.

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said it was shocking that only 12 percent of the homes in hard-hit Baton Rouge were covered by flood insurance, and only 14 percent in Lafayette. Donelon, however, said he understands why the state’s “large population of working poor folks” wouldn’t pay for flood coverage when lenders tell them it’s not a requirement.

Many flood victims said they weren’t required to have flood insurance and didn’t have it, since nothing remotely like this had ever happened before. One of those people was David Ellis.

He and his wife closed on their new house in a Livingston Parish subdivision last Thursday afternoon. It started flooding the very next day, water ultimately rising above three feet inside his home. Like many of his neighbors, Ellis didn’t have flood insurance. He said he was told he didn’t need it.

Friends have launched an online fundraising campaign to help repair the new home.

“I hate asking for help, but having somebody do that for us is awesome,” he said.

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