Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday Hurricane Laura was probably worse than Hurricane Rita 15 years ago, apologizing to anyone who thought he diminished the impact of the storm that slammed into the Cameron coast with 150 mph winds.
“It was never my intention to convey the damage was anything other than horrific,” said Edwards, who had apparently received some negative feedback. “It was every bit as bad as (Hurricane Rita in 2005) and probably worse where it struck; very catastrophic.”
Edwards also said Laura cut a wider swath of damage than Rita, which was evident by Ouachita Parish in northeastern Louisiana becoming one of three more parishes eligible for FEMA help as 600,000 Louisianans remained without clean water.
While energy companies continued to whittle away slowly at reducing power outages — down to about 250,000 Tuesday from a high of 600,000 — 72 water systems still weren’t functioning as of Tuesday morning.
That leaves about 170,000 people with complete or partial water outages and another more than 400,000 whose water is under a boil advisory.
In the worst hit areas of southwestern Louisiana, including the epicenter of Lake Charles, electricity and water could still be weeks away.
Entergy Louisiana President Phillip May along with local and state government officials will discuss the restoration plan for Calcasieu and Cameron parishes at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Sulphur.
The company said May will describe the catastrophic damage the company’s electrical grid suffered as a result of Hurricane Laura and what will be done to fully restore power to the region during a press conference.
Meanwhile, Acadiana parishes Acadia and Vermilion and Ouachita joined six others made eligible for aid under President Trump’s major disaster declaration.
Louisiana’s Hurricane Laura death toll remained at 15 Tuesday.
Edwards encouraged everyone impacted in Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Vernon, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, Ouachita and Vermilion to apply for the help.
“Please register for FEMA assistance as soon as you can,” said Edwards, who requested the declaration for 23 parishes. “If you’re in the other 14 parishes please know we’re continuing to advocate for you.”
Among the FEMA benefits added Tuesday for those in the nine qualifying parishes: critical needs assistance grants of $500 per household for those who are displaced from their homes; disaster unemployment assistance of $108 per week to those who aren’t eligible for state unemployment and who are unemployed as a direct result of the storm.
“We want to make sure people take advantage of all of the resources they qualify for with FEMA,” Edwards said.
The governor said he intends to return to Lake Charles Wednesday and travel to Allen, Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and Vernon parishes on Thursday.
Key contacts for help
Following are key contacts for help for Hurricane Laura victims:
► Alexandria Mega Shelter: The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has opened a reception center at the Alexandria Mega Shelter at 8125 Highway 71 South for evacuees seeking shelter and has closed the reception center at Zephyr Field in New Orleans.
Evacuees must go to the reception center to be placed in a non-congregate shelter — primarily hotels — as one becomes available. Anyone who arrives directly at a hotel will not be admitted and will be required to go to the reception center.
Alexandria’s shelter is open 24 hours a day. Information is also available by texting LAShelter to 898-211 or by calling 2-1-1.
► Finding family: The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services is also launching a program for families to locate loved ones who evacuated from Hurricane Laura to state-provided hotel rooms.
That number to call is 225-342-2727. Families can also fill out a form online to reach out to loved ones who may be in state non-congregate shelters. That form is found at http://www.dcfs.louisiana.gov/form/dcfs-connect.
► Operation Blue Roof: The Army Corps of Engineers is activating its “Operation Blue Roof” program to provide and install fiber-reinforced blue tarps to cover damaged roofs until arrangements can be made for permanent repairs.
To be eligible the houses must be inhabitable after installation.
Sign up for that program at http://usace.army.mil/blueroof or call 1-888-766-3258.
► Federal Emergency Management Agency: FEMA assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans for uninsured property loss and other programs to help people and businesses recover.
People who sustained losses can apply 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 from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week.
► American Red Cross: The American Red Cross has two sites in Calcasieu Parish (Lake Charles Civic Center, McMurry Park in Sulphur) and two sites in Beauregard Parish (1011 N. Pine St., DeRidder, and 12380 Highway 171 in Longville) to provide emergency supplies like cleanup kits.
Those sites will operate from noon-3 p.m.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1