As flood waters ebb, aid for Louisiana residents increases
Alexandria, La. — Mickey and Betty Ford are still unable to reach their riverside trailer north of here, except by boat. And J.M. Blaney is still waiting for flood waters to recede from 100 acres of his winter wheat - a spoiled crop now.
But for the most part, Louisiana is getting back to normal after heavy rains in late December flooded scattered areas of much of the state.
Residents have more time now to recount the many examples of how neighbors helped neighbors and how churches and other groups from out of state sent volunteers and truckloads of food and clothing.
Just as volunteers bailed out victims, the American taxpayer is bailing out many of them, too. Only about one out of 10 victims had federal flood insurance, according to early estimates here, despite this state's history of floods. But if victims agree to buy it now, they are eligible for federal loans and grants for flood damages.
Even people with federal flood insurance get more back in claims than they pay on their policy over the years, says R. Dell Greer, the No. 2 federal relief official here. Taxes pay the difference.
Enforcement of federal flood insurance standards in flood zones around the country is weak, he says.
But there was nothing weak about National Guard and volunteer efforts in this state. Andrew Gambordella, the civil defense director here, flips through his notebook and cites these examples:
* National Guard troops in high-wheeled trucks ferried people out of flooded homes around the state.
* Clothing was sent by the Church of the Latter Day Saints; Baptists set up emergency feeding centers; Mennonites are beginning home repairs.
* A group in Pennsylvania sent 1,000 pairs of shoes; a Texas family filled up a pickup truck with food and clothing and drove it to a disaster center themselves.
* Howard Ford and more than 1,000 other people in Pensacola and Gulf Breeze, Fla., pooled efforts and sent Louisiana victims two tractor-trailer loads of clothing and food worth an estimated $500,000. Included were some new clothing from merchants and 500 loaves of fresh-baked bread. The donors ''tore their hearts out,'' said Mr. Ford, whose Gulf fishing pier was destroyed by high waves this week.
Reuben Ramos, a volunteer here for the Red Cross, says some 400 Red Cross volunteers helped victims in central Louisiana. ''Every time we have a major disaster, it's amazing how people help each other,'' he says. One example: High school and college students helped make 2,500 sandwiches and 500 gallons of coffee, he said.
At a disaster relief center in nearby Jonesville, volunteer Lorna Boldener from Iowa shows a seven-year-old girl how to blow bubbles as part of the day-care service the Church of the Brethren is providing at the various centers while flood victims apply for aid.
As they wait for help at the Jonesville center, Mickey and Betty Ford recall how neighbors helped boat-out belongings from flooded trailers by the Old River near there. ''Everybody just pitched in and helped everyone,'' says Mrs. Ford.
The Fords pay about $800 a year in federal flood insurance. But many residents in Louisiana's many flood zones do not buy it. ''Complacency'' is a problem, says Joe Colson, assistant secretary of the state's Office of Emergency Preparedness.
He praises city sandbagging efforts in helping reduce damage in many parts of the state.
But much remains to be done. Some 2,000 people so far have applied for flood relief. Others are not sure what they're eligible for.
In a low-income neighborhood here that was partially flooded, Levy Peace wonders if he'll get compensation for damage to his car, which hasn't run well since it was flooded. And his elderly neighbor Rosselee Frazier, who crawled up on a sofa when about two feet of water swept into her one-bedroom apartment, lacks transportation to get to a disaster relief center.
State officials originally estimated some $200 million in damages but have since reduced that to about $100 million. Now, however, much of the land in the state is ''saturated,'' raising the risk of further flooding from additional rains and high coastal winds, says Mr. Colson.
Most of Louisiana lies only a few feet above sea level. It is the last stage in the drainage system for the heart of the US. A flood in the state in 1973 is described here as being much worse than this one.