Nearly two weeks after the hurricane made landfall, FEMA set up a Disaster Recovery Center last Friday in Lafayette on Liberty Avenue. Two days earlier ' a week after the Cajundome was named an American Red Cross shelter ' FEMA set up a processing center with about 20 representatives at the Cajundome to process the 1,700 evacuees still living there.
Local officials say there has been little communication between the city and parish of Lafayette with state and federal government. In those few discussions, Lafayette is asking many questions, but getting few answers.
Cajundome Director Greg Davis says the facility is spending $100,000 a day to operate as a Red Cross shelter. "I'm assuming that we'll get some money back from the feds," says Davis. "What I don't know is how much of what we're spending they will cover." With little to no direction from FEMA, Davis is using the Cajundome's operating budget for housing evacuees. With an estimated final price tag of $6 million, the Cajundome could be bankrupt by this week.
"We've got systems that are running 24 hours a day, seven days a week that have never done that, many of which are 20-plus years old," Davis says. "They're breaking down a lot, and we're having to call in our technicians to do repairs to keep these things functioning."
Before Katrina hit land, Davis was already lobbying for money to make capital improvements to the Cajundome. He recently asked the Lafayette city-parish council for assistance in lobbying the state for $10.5 million to renovate the facility. Over the last three years, his requests to the state have been turned down.
The 40 Cajundome employees under Davis' direction have been retrained to operate the Cajundome as a shelter instead of an event facility. "The Cajundome staff is exhausted," he says. "I'm personally burnt out. I'm sitting here right now, and I'm trying to keep myself awake. Every 48 hours, we might get a couple hours of sleep."
On top of the physical fatigue of running the Cajundome as a 24-hour shelter, Davis is concerned with the Cajundome's looming financial crisis. "The only way we get money is if we're making money through event activity," he says. "There is no event activity; therefore, we're not getting any money to cover the normal operating costs. That's a problem we've presented to FEMA."
A sold-out concert at the Cajundome usually nets anywhere from $80,000 to $125,000 per event. The Cajundome will lose $400,000 in the next couple of months due to the loss of the events that have been canceled since the building was designated a shelter. Davis' estimates are based on the Cajundome's fiscal year ending Oct. 31, but he says that the facility could possibly still be used as a shelter past that date.
All the negotiations for upcoming concerts and events have ceased. "No promoter in his right mind is going to think he's going to bring a concert here in October," Davis says. "Odds are that we're still going to be a shelter."
Davis met with FEMA officials one week after the Cajundome became a Red Cross shelter. Although he says there were discussions about finances, he's uncertain as to what FEMA will and won't reimburse the Cajundome. "I don't know how that's going to shake out," he says. "It's one big mess, man."
Davis isn't relying on FEMA to ensure the Cajundome's financial stability. He is in negotiations with local banks to secure loans for the facility's operations. "We need someone to cashflow the operation until we're able to know where the money's going to come from," he says.
Davis isn't the only who's asking: Where's the money? Local and state officials and evacuees, who heard of $2,000 debit cards being issued at the Astrodome in Houston, are asking the same questions.
On Friday, Sept. 9, after touring the Cajundome, both U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany and U.S. Sen. David Vitter told The Advocate they were dissatisfied with the disbursement of aid that FEMA has promised is on its way to evacuees. That same day, FEMA Director Michael Brown, who had been sharply criticized for his management of the disaster, was relieved of his duties overseeing relief efforts and was replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen.
On Friday, despite having set up a news desk for media inquiries, FEMA still seems uncertain of its role in Lafayette. FEMA spokesman Win Henderson was unaware that FEMA had set up an assistance location inside the Cajundome for those living in the Red Cross shelter. Nor can he answer how much ' if any ' money has been dispersed to evacuees now living in Lafayette. However, Henderson does say that FEMA will make financial assistance available to evacuees (not by debit cards) but by checks sent through the mail and direct deposits into checking accounts.
FEMA is also searching for rental properties in the area to assist evacuees with temporary housing needs. "We're also looking for large tracts of land," Henderson adds, "where we can establish temporary mobile home parks for evacuees, and those take a few weeks to develop." The parks could serve as temporary housing for up to 18 months.
"We may have to go that route on a temporary basis," says Walter Guillory, director of the Lafayette Housing Authority. But Guillory doesn't believe the camper cities will be the answer to the housing shortage in Lafayette and throughout the state. "We're looking at long-range assistance for these people."
Guillory is seeking a $1.5 billion grant from the federal government to provide housing for more than 150,000 families who have been left homeless after Katrina. The immediate goal is to get evacuees enrolled with the Section 8 housing program that allows for the housing authority to pay a portion of the tenants' rent based on their income. The new grant would allow tenants one year rent-free while moving them toward home ownership.
Guillory has the support of Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel. "I think everybody's goal is to get the people out of shelters as quickly as we can," says Durel. "The next step is to get them assimilated into this community or wherever else they might end up going."
Durel says a few discussions with both FEMA and the state government haven't been fruitful. "Now if you start talking about organizations like FEMA," he says, "it's obviously something that leaves a lot to be desired. But I keep telling myself that this is the greatest natural disaster in the history of America. So while they might have planned for a typical hurricane, this is something that nobody was prepared for."
Durel isn't waiting for directives from the state or federal levels to address the immediate and long-term issues facing Lafayette. He has formed task forces comprised of local business, civic and government leaders to address the issues of health care, finances, infrastructure, housing and traffic.
"Whether we want to talk about it or not at this stage, because it might feel a little uncomfortable to do so in light of this tragedy we're witnessing, Lafayette and other communities around the state are going to go through some changes," Durel says. "So we can either react to them as they happen, or we can get proactive and try to do a better job for our community and a better job for the new Lafayette."
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
Corporations spending in state elections; Kenny G and Hong Kong; states resist gay marriage and more national and international news for Thursday, October 23, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.
President Barack Obama is turning to black radio listeners to plead for midterm votes, a targeted approach to drum up Democratic support at a time when many candidates don't want him around in person.
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.