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|FEMA team assessing damage; crop losses will exceed $30 million|
An assessment team with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began work in Concordia today (Wednesday) assessing damage from hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
The four-member FEMA team met with Police Jury President Melvin Ferrington and Homeland Security Director Morris White this morning to discuss damage to public property, but what remains unclear is just what type of help farmers will receive.
Rep. Andy Anders recently returned from Washington with a Louisiana delegation including Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain. Anders said that ag losses will have a domino effect on the state and local economies.
"We're hoping to get something done before Congress wraps up next week," said Anders.
In Concordia, estimated crop losses exceed $30 million.
As of yet, Concordia has not been made eligible for federal disaster relief. Neighboring parishes Catahoula and Franklin were included last week, meaning that Gustav victims will be eligible for individual and household assistance.
Concordia's damage to public property came almost totally from Gustav, said White, which began battering the parish on Labor Day. An estimated 140-plus roofs were damaged, he said, while some 20-plus homes and at least one business were damaged by flood waters.
"Most of our damage was caused by flood waters," said White. "We got 20 inches of rain and the water backed up on everybody."
Ferrington said the Jury hopes to recover $90,000 in expenses it incurred from Gustav, most involving equipment for debris removal, clearing roads and gravel.
He said the cost of equipment usage was $25,496 and $12,336.10 for labor. Additionally, gravel costs included $13,098 for South Prong Road and $40,059 for Deer Park Road.
FEMA officials said today that another team will assess storm damage involving individual losses.
Meanwhile, Concordia Parish County Agent Glen Daniels described the harvest situated here in three words: "It's pretty bleak."
Calling it the worst agriculture disaster he's witnessed in Concordia since working as county agent for three and one-half decades, Daniels said "we are as close to a total disaster as you can get."
He said "soybeans are just rotting" in the fields, while "none of the cotton has been harvested." Daniels was unsure if farmers would be able to salvage any of the water-logged crops.
He estimated that 100 percent of the 30,000-acre cotton crop remains in the field, while about 65 percent of the soybeans are unharvested as are 65 percent of the rice and 30 percent of the corn.
Most of the milo crop was harvested.
"The only bright spot may be that some of the late-planted beans may be worth something," he said.
Ferrington said this week that "everything appears to be getting back to normal. We're working to get debris off the roads and we're helping Diamond Disposal with some of these problems. The good news is that the water levels are dropping, although slowly."
He said part of the Poole Road washed out during Gustav and that some roads in the Deer Park and Shaw areas were heavily damaged by utility trucks as workers attempted to restore electricity.
"A lot of it was just trucks getting stuck and making ruts in the wet ground," said Ferrington.
One hazard experienced by motorists driving along the levee in the Shaw and Deer Park areas has been deer crossing Hwy 15.
Bert Taunton of Vidalia, who lives in Vidalia, said numerous deer "have been hit. When the water comes up the deer sometimes feed on the side of the levee where there was some Johnson grass six-feet high. But you can't see them until they come out of the grass."
Taunton said he reported the dangerous situation to Rep. Anders who requested the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development clip the grass, which was done a short time later.
"It certainly improves your ability to see," said Taunton.
Taunton, who operates convenience stores in the parish, also said he received so many complaints over the rising cost of gas that he showed some customers a copy of his invoice for a recent purchase.
Gas prices locally have risen as high as $4.89 in one location, while some retailers have opted not to provide gas at all for the time being.
"I figure I had two choices," said Taunton, "not buy any gas or buy gas so that people can choose whether they want it or not. Some people say we're price-gouging, but if we make four to six cents a gallon we're lucky. In fact, if a customer pays with a credit card we're charged a three percent processing fee and that cuts three cents off of our profit."
He said he normally buys his gas from the Archie Terminal in Catahoula Parish, but "they've been out for a week. We've been buying from Citgo from Vicksburg, which is owned by Citgo in Houston and everybody by now knows that the refineries were shut down by Hurricane Ike."
Taunton said that Placid Oil of Baton Rouge, another local supplier, is a customer of Exxon and has been experiencing a shortage, too.
"This is a crunch time and the big boys have the upper hand," he said, adding that "what we're seeing right now is a product of the hurricane and it's got us in a mess."
BOATING TO RESUME
As water levels continue to drop in Concordia Parish lakes, Sheriff Randy Maxwell advises local fishermen and recreational boaters that they can once again launch their boats.
"I want to thank everyone for being so cooperative while the lake levels were high," Maxwell noted. "I feel sure that anyone owning a business or home is very appreciative that others refrained from recreational boating following Gustav's excessive rains."
The sheriff added that it would still be advisable to stay primarily in the middle of the lakes while boating in order to keep from damaging piers and other property as water levels continue to drop over the next few days.
As of Sept. 14, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 358,966 residents have registered for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance as a result of Hurricane Gustav and 7,460 as a result of Hurricane Ike.
So far, FEMA officials have approved more than $19.4 million to help individuals and households recover from Hurricane Gustav.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) said it has deployed more than 140 people to Louisiana to help residents and businesses recover from the hurricane.
SBA has issued 133,633 home and 33,286 business applications for a total of 166,919 applications issued to victims of Gustav.
Along with Louisiana Economic Development and the Louisiana Small Business Development Center Network, SBA has opened five Business Counseling Centers. The centers, located in Baton Rouge, Metairie, Thibodaux, Carencro and Alexandria, will provide free one-on-one consultations with SBA customer service representatives and counselors from the Development Center Network.
SBA also has staff in Louisiana ready to meet with homeowners, renters and business owners at every Disaster Recovery Center once the DRCs reopen.
Meanwhile, the Red Cross reports that it has served nearly 718,000 meals in the state following Gustav, has opened nearly 170 shelters in Louisiana and provided nearly 800,000 overnight stays.
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