New Orleans – Lunch with a FEMA Inspector
I was expecting to see a lot of things and talk with a lot of people during my time in New Orleans. Much to my surprise, when I was finished checking into my hotel, I got on the elevator with a gentleman who had on a blue windbreaker that said “FEMA” (Federal Emergency Management Agency) on the back. At the time, I was on the phone with my mother, however I was able to get the man’s name. On Sunday, I had lunch at my hotel with him. Here is how our conversation went.
The man, who was 51, was originally from Marrero, LA, which is on the West Bank not far from Gretna, LA (across the bridge). He fled the storm to a town just north of Nashville, where his brother lived. He and his brother returned to his home in Marrero, LA in mid-October only to find a pile of debris that was formerly his house. It was at this point that his brother encouraged him to seek out the help of FEMA to rebuild, since he had no insurance. They had already heard the stories of people not getting their money or any other kind of help, but they gave it a shot anyway.
He called the office of Congressman William Jefferson to get a number by which he could contact FEMA. He then told them his situation, and that he’d do anything to be able to move back to Marrero and get his house back (he did own the home). He knew “God was on the phone with him” when the person on the other end said that he could likely be helped if he was willing to work for FEMA. He happily said he would, and BAM! He was now a FEMA inspector. The fact that he had no experience here did not deter him or FEMA from hiring him (he was a chef by trade, but the restaurant he worked in was destroyed by the storm).
I asked what he did as an inspector, and he said he basically went to damaged/destroyed houses and make judgement calls on whether they were “recoverable” or not. I asked how they measured “recoverability,” and he said that they looked at “the damage of the other houses on the block, the structural damage to the building, how likely that area would be to flood again, stuff like that.” He also told me that they had “an engineer” accompany him when he went to look at the different sites. “We fill out a sheet for every house and then turn it in at the office.” “What was the ‘recoverability’ of your house?” I inquired. “Well, my house is gone, but I can afford to rebuild it.” I asked then if they took into consideration the “owner’s ability to afford rebuilding” when inspecting homes, and he said he didn’t know. “They know who owns the house back at the office, but I don’t know that when me and the engineer look at the house. I sure hope not.” He’s not the only one.
I then asked that he rate FEMA’s recovery and relief efforts on a scale of 1 to 10. “I’d give them like a 6. I mean, they are helping me out, and some other people too, but there is a lot more that can be done.” I asked him how they were helping him out, and he said that after he worked for a year, they’d give him money to rebuild his house, and that they are paying him to be an inspector. He didn’t tell me how much he made, but disturbingly, he said that the thing about giving him money for rebuilding his home was NOT given to him in writing. I’m no lawyer, but I advised him to consider getting that promise put on paper. He said he’d look into it. “I’m cool now. The money the give me is enough for me to eat, and me and my brother and my sister pay for my hotel room here [in this hotel]. I’m alive, so I got no complaints. I do wish my dog could be here [in the hotel] with me though. He’s with my sister in Nashville.” I told him I though FEMA, the Governor, and the Mayor all failed the people of the city, and that I’d give FEMA maybe a 3. He said he didn’t think it was that bad. “None of them could have stopped the hurricane.”
The last thing I asked him was if he felt the New Orleans area was better prepared now for a storm this hurricane season. He said, “Hell naw. They ain’t rebuilt a levy yet that I know of. I plan on leaving again if they say a storm is coming. I’ll rebuild my house if no storm comes before my year is up.” I told him that we’d be praying together that no storms ravaged the area like this ever again.
It was good to put a human face on FEMA.
One Love. One II.