Louisiana begins Hurricane Zeta damage assessments; polling locations likely will be moved

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Hurricane Zeta damage assessments have begun, though it will be several days at least before officials have a rough estimate of the costs.

Typically after natural disasters, the federal government will pay at least 75 percent of the recovery costs, with the state covering the rest. The state match falls to 10 percent once the cost exceeds a certain threshold, and a 2018 policy change Congressman Garret Graves pushed for requires FEMA to look at the cumulative impact of multiple disasters, Graves said.

“If you take COVID, you take Hurricane Delta, and you take Hurricane Laura, we have already hit the threshold to get a 90/10 cost share,” he said Friday. “That 90/10 should also apply to Zeta.”

Zeta’s high winds did most of the damage to trees, power lines and structures; the storm was moving too fast to cause widespread severe flooding. Graves said improvements to the levee system in southeast Louisiana prevented more significant damage from storm surge.

The “burrito levee” or “Cajun burrito” in Grand Isle, which Graves said isn’t technically a levee but more of a berm, suffered the only reported breech. Zeta’s reported sustained wind speed of 100 miles per hour fell one mile per hour short of Category 3 status, and that slim distinction between Category 2 and 3 could make the difference between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers having to fix it at their own expense, Graves said.

However, Graves said the Corps’ original work on the project was substandard, arguing the feds have a responsibility to fix it regardless of Zeta’s wind speed.

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday continued his tours of the most heavily damaged areas. At a stop in Jefferson Parish, he reiterated that workers were prioritizing power restoration to critical infrastructure. That includes hospitals and water systems, which are operational but relying on backup power, and polling places for Tuesday’s election.

“I am fairly confident there will be voters on Tuesday who will not be able to vote in their normal polling location,” Edwards said.

But which locations will need to be moved remained to be determined Friday. Edwards urged voters in areas with power issues to pay attention to local officials and media to find out if their polling place has been moved, while acknowledging that at least some voters won’t know anything has changed until they get there and read a sign telling them to go elsewhere.

As of Friday afternoon, almost 306,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana remained without power, according to PowerOutage.US.

Also on Friday, Edwards received confirmation that the federal government has authorized a 100 percent federal cost share for debris removal and emergency protective measures, including direct assistance, for a 30-day period of activity related to Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in Cameron Parish Aug. 27.

Louisiana has been hit by five named storms this year, the most on record.

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