Flood recovery may rely on volunteers, donations, and tourists


Five hurricanes and a massive oil spill have taught Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser a few things about how the federal government reacts to a major disaster.

“I learned that in the beginning, FEMA told you ‘no’ to everything,” says Nungesser. “You had to really read and learn and understand your options.”

Nungesser wasn’t the president of Plaquemines Parish during Hurricane Katrina. But, on this 11th anniversary of the storm, he has his hurricane story to tell.

“Me and my wife rode out Katrina 14 miles from the eye,” he recalls. “We rescued 30-plus people that lived with me for months–[people] I didn’t even know–and animals for months after that–and never saw a politician.”

He didn’t see a politician. So, he became the politician that would help Plaquemines Parish through the tough times.

Nungesser was elected parish president in 2006. He served two terms, which spanned the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, damage from several other hurricanes, and the disaster of the BP oil spill.

“We had to go to Washington and appeal several things to get funding,” Nungesser says. “We had to jump through hoops in certain cases.”

Nungesser says the process has gotten a lot better today. And, it’s his experience with disasters that gives him the perfect skill set to help with the current post-flooding recovery in the state.

“The governor has asked me to step in and help wherever I can,” Nungesser says.

One of the messages he has for those rebuilding is they will need help. For that reason, Nungesser is spreading the word about VolunteerLouisiana.gov. It is a place for people interested in helping gut homes or lending a hand in other ways.  It has also been upgraded to accept donations which Nungesser says will be stored in Baton Rouge and distributed to areas of need.

There will be many areas of need, according to Nungesser. He says FEMA is awarding an average of $7,500 to flood victims who didn’t have insurance and didn’t live in a flood zone.

“That won’t rebuild your home,” Nungesser points out. “So, unless there is additional federal monies coming down, we’re going to have to rely on volunteers, these non-profit groups that come in to help rebuild your home.”

This is a different role for Louisiana’s lieutenant governor.  Usually, the lieutenant governor acts as the chief promoter of the state, attracting tourists and economic opportunities from the rest of the country and world. Now, his pitch is aimed at volunteers.

But the traditional role has not completely disappeared.

“We’ll be working to make sure we deliver the message loud and clear to America: we’re open for business,” promises Nungesser. “I’ll be reaching out to all the lieutenant governors in every state asking them if they want to help Louisiana, yes, make a donation–or if you want to come volunteer. But take a weekend and come visit Louisiana. Come spend some money here as a tourist. That will help our economy.”