Ourso moves forward after Iberville flood included in federal relief request

Staff Report

The White House has approved Louisiana’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration following the flash flooding in mid-May, which damaged several thousand homes and left five people dead, Gov. Edwards announced last week.

Bayou Manchac and other flood-strained areas across Iberville Parish will be part of the flood relief package President Joe Biden approved upon from request from Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The announcement came as welcomed news to Iberville Parish President Mitchell Ourso, who has been at the forefront of the struggles throughout the parish since the storms plunged through the parish the third week of May.

“It’s going to start the process of recovery and trying to help people get their homes and property back to where they were,” he said.  “I’m very grateful to the declaration, but people need to understand FEMA doesn’t make anyone “whole” anymore like it used to be -- the guidelines are a little bit more stringent, so once I get the guidelines out, I’m going to have a professional team with a greater amount of knowledge about public and individual assistance so these people can get a greater amount of understanding knowledge on who want what and where to go and how to file on this.

“I’ll be meeting with these contractors – people who understand these issues better on recovery and independent assistance,” he said.

Ourso plans to set up offices on the Eastbank and Westbank to help move the process forward on information for the residents.

While the announcement brings help to the area, the conversation will eventually need to shift from recovery efforts to preventive measures, he said.

Ourso hopes the federal officials will finally recognize the need to improved drainage, particularly in the areas of East Iberville and Bayou Sorrel/ Pigeon.

Both are mainstays for severe flooding during rain events, even when they last less than one day.

“Hopefully, what happened with the Westbank in that watershed of Bayou Sorrel and Bayou Pigeon, water coming from what we call the Upper Terrebonne Basin, which is anything north of the Bayou Sorrel Locks – all the water that comes from Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge to the Intracoastal,” Ourso said. “We were blessed in 2016 when the flood when the water was lower on the spillway and lockmaster was able to keep the Locks open to let the water get into the spillway. But this time, it was just a reverse. The spillway was higher, we couldn’t open the Locks and water just backed up … what you see happening now.

“We’re going to have to put our ideas together on the Westside and on the Eastside with the Manchac, and its paths, of late, between Ascension, East Baton Rouge,” he said.

“The pumping can’t handle this anymore, so we need to come together on this and have some kind of plan because you can’t ever design something the good Lord doesn’t overpower on a thousand-year storm, but I think people have had enough and I understand how they feel, but it’s going to take an effort to get all the parishes together to come up with some kind of solution on something like this. Water has flowed well through the cuts in the road cuts around Ascension and The Palms and our gate, but Manchac is flatlined a bit and not leaving there as we thought it was going to go. “

Efforts by Ascension Parish Government has helped the area, but it’s by no means a quick fix, Ourso said.

“Water has flowed well through the cuts in the road cuts around Ascension and The Palms and our gate, but Manchac has flatlined a bit and not leaving there as we thought it was going to go,” he said. “The more Manchac drops, the bigger hit you get from the Spanish Lake side, the more it flows out, but we’re not there yet.”

The Governor declared a state of emergency for this disaster on May 17.

So far, more than 2,900 homes have reported damage from the severe weather, including six that were reported as destroyed, 737 suffering major damage and 1,209 homes having minor damage. Louisiana continues to collect reports from the public via a self-reporting process at damage.la.gov. 

Everyone with weather related damages is encouraged to take the survey, as additional parishes may be added to the request.

Residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated parishes can begin applying for assistance by registering online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.