Louisiana struggles to find rooms to shelter Hurricane Laura evacuees

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Hurricane Laura evacuees currently in Texas hotel rooms should consider staying there for a while, because otherwise Louisiana might have to put them in a mass shelter, Gov. John Bel Edwards suggested Thursday.

Louisiana is sheltering about 12,000 people, mostly in New Orleans hotels. Edwards said thousands of Louisiana residents are being sheltered in Texas but he didn’t know exactly how many.

Officials in both states are trying to avoid putting evacuees in large shelters with people from different households because of the risk of contracting COVID-19. Edwards said it’s difficult to get hotels to agree to contracts reserving blocks of rooms for evacuees and doesn’t think officials could quickly find rooms for 2,000 or more people.

“We don’t commandeer hotels,” he said.

The state’s official count of deaths associated with Hurricane Laura is 17. The two most recent fatalities added to the list occurred on Aug. 31 and were heat-related, Edwards said.

The weather in south Louisiana over the past several days, with heat indexes well above 100 degrees, has been a concern during the cleanup and recovery process. More than 200,000 homes and businesses still don’t have electricity – down from more than 600,000 immediately after the storm – and many of the remaining outages are in southwest Louisiana where severe infrastructure damage may prevent power restoration for weeks.

About 92,000 Louisiana residents have applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance so far, receiving about $25 million, Edwards said. More than 2,700 residents have registered to receive blue tarps to cover roof damage.

Work began Wednesday to cut a canal along the lower Mermentau River in Cameron Parish to remove lingering flood water from roadways and enable equipment, fuel and supplies into hard-hit areas, officials said. The work is expected to be completed by Saturday.