BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards charged members of his new flood recovery planning group Wednesday to be bold and innovative in their response to the mid-August flooding and to “devise a plan to restore our great state.”
The Democratic governor spoke Wednesday as the Restore Louisiana Task Force held its first meeting, in anticipation Louisiana could get a more than $400 million share of disaster recovery aid up for debate in Congress — and as much as $2 billion more by December.
“In a very real way, thousands and thousands of our fellow Louisianans have had their lives turned upside down,” Edwards said. “What we have to do as a task force is figure out a way to put people’s lives right-size up again, as soon as possible.”
As he spoke, Congress was still working on a budget deal that included flood aid for Louisiana and other states. The U.S. Senate passed the bill Wednesday, and it was expected to also win U.S. House support. Edwards said Louisiana was estimated to get more than $400 million in block grant money through the legislation.
He’s asked for $2.8 billion total, hoping Congress will provide additional disaster aid when it returns to work after the November election.
“I don’t want you all to focus so much on what’s going on in Congress. I want you all to focus on what we’re going to do for the people of Louisiana, and the congressional delegation is going to make sure we get the assistance that we need,” Edwards said.
That block grant aid will be the focus of the task force’s rebuilding plans. The group includes economic development officials, local government leaders, state lawmakers and community representatives.
While the money remained uncertain, Edwards urged the group to work quickly on devising proposals for spending whatever aid may be received.
He said that would help members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation make the state’s case to their colleagues before the end of year that the money will be spent wisely, including on making communities more resilient.
“We have to make sure that the federal government understands that this is an investment in our future,” he said.
The August flooding ravaged south Louisiana, causing more than $8.7 billion in destruction and killing 13 in the nation’s worst disaster since Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast in 2012. State officials estimate 130,000 homes were damaged and more than 5 million cubic yards of debris — enough to fill 350,000 dump trucks — will be collected.
“The climatologists are telling us 7 trillion gallons of rain fell in 48 hours,” Edwards said. To put that in perspective, he explained: “It takes the Mississippi River 18 days to discharge that much water into the Gulf of Mexico.”
Combined with flooding that struck north Louisiana in March and damaged another 29,000 homes, 56 of the state’s 64 parishes have been hit with destruction from water.
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