First, let me apologize for not being at the meeting, but I am in Washington D.C. working on levee protection and financial aid to help us recover from Hurricane Isaac.
As Parish President, I'm the face and voice for St. John Parish and it is critical that our needs be addressed by Congress before they leave for the November elections. Right now, there is little time to reflect, heal or vent as St. John remains in crisis. Our residents need housing, they need money, they need transportation, and they need the debris removed from their neighborhoods as it poses a threat to health and safety.
Despite misinformation, I did not leave the parish during Hurricane Isaac, did not have a breakdown and did not resign my position. On the contrary, me and my stafff slept in our offices for days, working through the night to make sure you were safe, the infrastructure was repaired and resources were on the ground when the winds stopped.
Disasters often bring out the best and the worst of people and I have witnessed both. But I know first hand that this disaster brought out the best of me and my staff. I thank them and all of our employees who have been on the ground working even before the storm - many of whom are flood victims. I thank council members who recognized the severity of this disaster and joined in our rescue and recovery efforts. Our faith-based community and a host of volunteers and other local, state and federal agencies have also been on the ground with a common purpose - Recovery!
Hurricane Isaac was an act of God - we prepared for it based on history and the information provided by the weather service - we responded at a record pace. Currently the state and parish's evacuation plan is triggered by a category 3 hurricane. The system does not account for storm surge or storm speed, but relies soley on wind speed - this needs to be re-evaluated. Despite these predictions, parish employees in conjuction with New Wine, were prepared to evacuate and shelter residents in low lying areas. No one - and I repeat - no one predicted the flooding that occurred with Hurricane Issac. But we know now and would respond differently.
Once the flooding began, my efforts were directed toward saving lives. Lives not Property - The Sheriff's Office and Fire Departments were overwhelmed and lacked the necessary resources and equipment to go down floodeed roads. Because there was no history of flooding, the original focus was only on low lying areas - before realizing that everything north of Airline Hwy. was in jeapordy of flooding. Because the parish had a sheltering agreement and over 93 coach buses were on hand to transport our residents, over 4000 people and close to 200 pets were fed and evacuated to state run shelters in a matter of hours. Another 2000 were pick up at New Wine by family and friends, while still others drove themselves to shelters in Alexandria and Shreveport.
I requested help from the National Guard, Wildlife & Fisheries and the Coast Guard to assist in our rescue efforts with boats and high water vehicles. A large number of volunteers and some council members were also involved in rescue efforts. People were rescued for over 48 hours beginning on the east side of the parish and moving to the west - from LaPlace to Garyville - from the Interstate to the River Road. The evacuation routes were shut down.
This was not a drainage issue - a pump at every outfall canal could not have stopped Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas from emptying into St. John Parish. I-10 and Airline Hwy. were under water and portions of River Road were blocked. The Sheriff's Office had megaphones and sirens, but their vehicles could not go through the high water to warn residents - they lost 8 cars to flooding. As an after thought, we could have sounded the siren warning of tornados, but the system for explaining the warning was non-functioning because we had no power. Again, because we will likely experience power outages again, so we encourage you to sign up for first alerts, the e-newsletter, and the St. John Parish Facebook. Hurricane season is not over - these messages can go to your cellphones.
The predictions for Isaac, barely a category 1 hurricane, did not anticipate this impact to our community. Storm surge levels were predicted for 5-8 feet for a category 2 hurricane and 3-5 feet for a category 1 hurricane. Obiviously, those predictions were off. Recent storm surge models for pre- and post-Katrina levee improvements, suggested minimal change to storm surge levels in the lake - those models are questionable. Residents of our parish have insisted for years that providing levees and pumping systems to our east would cause flood waters to invade unprotected St. John Parish - they were right.
Whether or not we should have issued a mandatory evacaution is not the issue, as many people make their decisions based on the category of the hurricane - evacuating would not have stopped their homes from flooding, but could have spared the trauma of the rescue - this was a worse case scenerio that should never have happened and should never happen again. We will need a united front to access all that is required for St. John's recovery.
As of today - 17 days after the last rescue
Power has been restored to all but 5 customers, water has been restored parishwide, a levee of Hesco baskets has been created around our LaPlace water system, and lift stations throughout the parish are being repaired.
The National Guard will leave Friday and the Sheriff's Office will resume security.
The DSNAP office closed last Friday, after over 8000 residents received $3.4 million in food stamps
FEMA opened a Disaster Recovery Center at New Wine on September 1
Total Household Registrations – 11,946
Residents in hotels – 578
Housing Assistance – $17,770,653
Other Needs Assistance – $2,592,793
I've issued an Executive Order allowing for temporary housing while residents work on their homes - Permiting is required for inspection, but there is no parish fee. We are working on list of vendors who can provide rental trailers, RVs, or mobile homes or you can locate your own.
Residents can use their Rental Assistance to rent, lease or purchase travel trailers, RVs or campers. HUD Manufactured Housing (2-3 room mobile homes) has been requested for existing spots and FEMA is assessing additional properties for use should they be needed.
My staff is working with the HUD, Hotel Association, DOTD, Housing Task Force, OCD, FEMA and GOHSEP to address long-term housing needs and transportation for our recovery.
All schools are open accept ESJH which is tentatively scheduled to open Sept. 24th.
PUBLIC WORKS employees are collecting vegetative debris in Districts 1,2 & 3, while contractors are collecting construction and demolition debris in flooded areas. We are awaiting approval for a new debris staging site and permission to access private property to expedite the removal.
GARBAGE COLLECTION is getting back to normal, but we may have to run additional trucks if bagged garbage becomes a problem.
The ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Department hosted a Procurement Seminar – 75-100 attended.
Our Business Call Center & Business Resource Center are open in the New Wine Complex
Red Cross will man the parish shelter through Friday - there are 63 people remaining and there cases are being worked through FEMA
Volunteer Assistance Hotline is open – email@example.com, 985-359-0254
We ask that you remain patient as we work through this process - we can and we will recover and be a stronger and better community as a result of Hurricane Isaac.