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."
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday, March 06, 2014:
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
New standards curb elective induction
CVS stops tobacco sales
If an Acadia Parish fiddler misses a note while swatting a fly, will a St. Martinville accordionist learn “Ma ‘Tite Fille”?
(It's good, it's bad and it's just crazy)
Can state lawmakers find the nerve — and the votes — to neuter payday lenders?
A calm demeanor has served Gerald Boudreaux well — in his career, passion for sports and in life. And it could be just what his district needs in the state Senate.
Acadiana Catholics* react to Francis
The circumstances surrounding the Jan. 26 fire of the 18,000-square-foot home on Verot School Road seemed strange, but what's even more bizarre is the back-story behind owner Ralph Wadleigh.
Choice cuts from Acadiana's news media for Friday, Feb. 28, 2014: