Congress Investigates How FEMA Handled Louisiana’s Historic Flooding Last Year

By Yessenia Funes Feb 24, 2017

A congressional committee is investigating how the federal government responded to the historic flooding that hit Louisiana in August 2016.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) yesterday (February 23) requesting certain documents related to the agency’s handling of the disaster. These included documentation on Manufactured Housing Units, trailers where homeowners are supposed to live temporarily while they rebuild their actual homes. 

This request follows the death of 84-year-old Everett Wilson, reports The Advocate. The blind, elderly man was living in one of these trailers and was found dead October 25, 2016. The coroner ruled his death accidental hyperthermia (or overheating)—a result of a faulty heating and cooling unit that resulted in his unit having temperatures over 137.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Wilson’s friend and caregiver, Cathy Landry, told The Advocate that she had called authorities more than 25 times to complain about the structure’s high temperatures.

The committee had been on-site this past August in Louisiana, but returned to visit in February 2017 to continue their oversight of the event. This visit led to the discovery of "various problems with FEMA’s handling of recovery efforts," the letter reads.

It also mentioned other criticisms of how FEMA handled the one-in-1,000 year flood event that killed 13 people and damaged upwards of 100,000 homes. The letter states:

The Committee continues to learn of high levels of dissatisfaction from survivors and local officials regarding FEMA’s recovery efforts. Many of the issues discussed at the September 9, 2016 hearing regarding poor communication, high FEMA point of contact turnover and inconsistencies in recovery amounts disbursed to survivors appear to persist. Local officials have also expressed particular concern over FEMA’s sharing of information.

The committee is asking FEMA to provide these documents by March 9, 2017.

The Red Cross has also faced scrutiny for how it treated the flood event, which hit Baton Rouge, Louisiana particularly hard. ProPublica published an investigation on October 3 that highlighted that evacuees “went hungry, thirsty and without medical attention” as a result of “mismanagement and understaffing” at their shelters. This was particularly true for the Baton Rouge River Center, which Colorlines covered previously.