Needed in Louisiana as flood waters ebb: 40,000 new homes

Louisiana faces the challenge of rebuilding an estimated 40,000 homes damaged in the storm, while housing their owners in the meantime.

Megan Schexnayder and David McNeely (R) sit on the porch of a home surrounded by floodwaters after heavy rains in Sorrento, Louisiana, on August 17, 2016.

As the flood water in Louisiana begins to recede, the true extend of the damage caused by rain storms that dumped more than two feet of water on Baton Rouge and Lafayette in just two days is becoming clear. With an estimated 40,000 homes damaged by the deluge, thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, staying in overflowing shelters, with relatives and friends, and in trailers.

Those with flood insurance will need places to stay while they rebuild. Those without flood insurance have the even greater challenge of relocating completely – a process the state hopes will go more smoothly than it did following Hurricane Katrina.

"Thousands of people in Louisiana have lost everything they own and need our help now," Brad Kieserman, the vice president of disaster services operations and logistics for the Red Cross, said in a statement.

Volunteers have rushed to pitch in, as have companies and celebrities: Airbnb has encouraged its hosts to offer rooms for free, and singer Taylor Swift announced a $1 million donation on Tuesday. 

In addition to volunteer organizations like the Red Cross, President Barack Obama has called in The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which provides resources for housing, contacting loved ones, and filing flood relief claims. More that 9,000 claims have already been filed, according to FEMA, and 70,000 have registered for federal disaster assistance.

However, most homes in the areas hit the hardest by the flooding were not covered by flooding insurance. Only 12 percent of homes in Baton Rouge and 14 percent in Lafayette were insured against flooding, Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon told the Associated Press.

State officials are encouraging landlords to offer short term leases, and asking homeowners to rent out any space they can spare for people displaced by the flooding.

"If you have a unit that's an old mother-in-law suite and you can rent it out, let us know," said Keith Cunningham, who heads the Louisiana's housing agency.

Airbnb, the popular home-sharing vacation rental site, has provided a platform for hosts to offer their rental properties to victims of the flooding for free, as The Christian Science Monitor reported on Wednesday. So far more than 180 Airbnb hosts across the state are hosting people displaced by the flood.

This system actually began in 2012, after hurricane Sandy struck the Eastern seaboard. Since then, Airbnb has expanded the program to help victims of wildfires, floods, earthquakes, and terror attacks around the world, Airbnb spokesman Nick Shapiro told the Monitor.

Now, once a disaster hits, Airbnb waives its fees and emails hosts in the affected areas to let them know about the program.

"The generosity, compassion and caring, to take from their own income and welcome strangers into their property. There are just no words for that. There are no words," Kim Stewart, whose east Baton Rouge home was destroyed and who is now staying in an Airbnb home, told the Monitor. "I truly believe it's a Southern thing."

But all of these are temporary solutions.

"Nobody wants to do a long-term shelter," Terri Ricks, the deputy secretary for the Department of Children and Family Services, told the Associated Press. Ricks is helping organize long-term shelters at parishes where people can stay while they rebuild. "We want to get people in a more permanent situation."

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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