Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What's Up With Cameron?

While much of the focus continues on New Orleans, little has been said about the areas hit by hurricane Rita. I had the opportunity to travel down to Cameron, LA and see things first hand. As much time as I have spent in New Orleans and the surrounding areas, I had not idea what total devastation looks like.

As we traveled down Hwy 27 from I-10, we noticed that the marshes were littered with debris like someone had a bag of trash that spilled on the side of the road. The difference was that this debris consisted of windows sills, refrigerator doors and an occasional house. I had to verify with the locals that there were no houses in these marshes. Frankly, I’m not sure how they are going to clean it up.

When we go to the turn off for Cameron, we quickly realized that all landmarks for navigation were gone. After talking with Parish officials the only building really standing is the courthouse which is the only building that survived hurricane Audry back in the 1957. Most of the Parish government is working out of trailers circled around the courthouse.

There is a building behind the courthouse that used to be a dance hall. I knew that the entire Parish evacuated and there had been only one death so I was surprised that the sign on the door had a nice inscription about the gems of Cameron Parish being inside. When the coroner arrived and opened the door, I saw hundreds of new caskets. Perplexed, I asked where they were from. These turned out to be all of the caskets that came out of the ground when the storm surge came in. Apparently, cemeteries actually do a good job tagging bodies so you know which site and plot they came from. The coroner had to ID every body, get them into a new casket and get them back to the proper plot. The short time I was there 4 or 5 families came looking for loved ones remains displaced from the storm. Sobering.

Rita is being re-classified as a category 1 or 2 storm. The people of Cameron Parish are laughing and the ludicrousness of this. There are reports of wind measuring devices at the large oil field reporting gusts of 140mph that lasted 30 minutes. Combine this with an 8 to 10 foot storm surge and you can see why there is little left.

I haven’t seen this “officially” but according to the leader's information, Rita sets the record for the most linear miles of coast affected in terms of size. It was actually bigger in size than Katrina. Fortunately, it hit the least populated stretch of the Gulf that it could have. At some point I’ll update on things in Lake Charles, LA and Orange, TX where Rita continued to damage things.

The people whose homes are torn apart and damaged from the surge are not having issues with flood insurance. The people whose homes are completely gone are having issues. Typically, if an area has damaged home and one or a few are completely missing, it indicates a high wind typically associated with tornados which can be in the outer bands of the storm. Flood is covered by flood insurance and wind damage is covered by home owners insurance. The home owners in Cameron Parish that had wind damage are having difficulty getting their claims paid.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Round 2 - Getting Ready for the Season

People around the state are preparing for the next round of storms this year. Gas cans are being emptied and refreshed, generators are getting oil changes and tune-ups and people are stocking up their hurricane closet supplies. Many people that I talk to are improving on their strategies from last year. Things from hard wiring generators to having more water in storage. Still, I'm surprised by the people who do nothing. They will be the ones running around getting gas cans and batteries the day before the storm and cursing the lines.

Many people last year found out why you should review your home owners polices every few years. Floods are not covered under your existing home owners policy. Many people had the original amount when they purchased their house and had not increased the amount with their cost of rebuilding and found themselves under insured. You can go to your current agent to get your flood insurance but all of it is underwritten by FEMA and the price will be exactly the same regardless of your broker.

I spoke to an insurance agent regarding flood insurance this week and was surprised by much of the discussion. Many people who are not in flood zones have been purchasing flood insurance. We fall into this category as well. Even though the odds of a storm surge hitting Baton Rouge are slim, with all of the new sub-divisions and drainage projects, you can not be sure about flooding. Cheap peace of mind for people not in a direct flood zone.

Keep in mind the most flood insurance you can get via FEMA is $250,000. There is are some insurers who offer amounts above that similar to how umbrella policies work for liability insurance. To give you an idea, if you are in the lowest risk zone, 1 year of insurance is $296 for $200,000 worth of coverage. You have a 30-day waiting period from the day you pay your premium and they will not accept applications if there is a named storm in the Gulf. You must also pay the full year in advance.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Rest of the Quarter

We managed to get around the French Quarter and spend time looking and talking with merchants. If you haven't been to New Orleans, the city looks somewhat normal on the surface. If you have been or really do some exploring you will discover just how empty the city really is.

We went to the River Walk and wandered through all of the shops. About 1/3 of them were actually open. This place was trashed after the storm so any sign of life is a warm welcome. Some of the larger shops like Eddie Bauer have closed up and do not plan on returning. We saw the Sensation which is the cruise ship that the NOPD personnel are living on.

This is a view of the Sensation from the West Bank taken on 2/11/06. If you look at the glass building towards the front of the ship, you will notice the roof windows are still unrepaired.

After leaving the River Walk we walked down Decatur and looked around. My brother-in-law showed me the special permits from the health department that restaurants have to get before opening. Seems that they take the flooding and lack of electricity serious. What was suprising was the number of restaurants and bars that did not have them up. Being 2 weeks from Mardi Gras, you would think they would want to open.

We cut over to Bourbon St. via Jackson Square. No artists, fortune tellers or panhandlers. Weird. For a Saturday at 6:00pm, it was a strange feeling. Not one tourist shop had a visitor in it. We spoke with several owners and they stated they were open because they had to pay rent. Overall they stated business was dead. Even the small bars only had 1 or 2 people in them. Some of the larger bars had small crowds but you could tell they weren't tourists. Mostly workers taking the afternoon off and getting smashed.

This picture is of the city taken from the West Bank on 2/14/06.

This photo is one of the many trailer parks all over the state. This one had RVs as well as tent trailers. It is behind Blaine Kerne's Mardi Gras World

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Upper and Lower 9th Ward

Tooling around the 9th ward and east New Orleans is interesting to say the least. Lots of local tourists driving around taking pictures. Again, you have to see the devastation to believe it. It's easier to count the number of houses that have people living in them than to count the number of houses damaged.

We drove over Franklin Avenue towards the St. Bernard Parish line. They were working on the levee breach. We were quite surprised to still see barges and smashed houses still untouched. Below are two photos showing the area near the breach.

Note, you can see a chain link fence keeping people away from the repair efforts.

You would think by now the barge would be gone.

As we drove towards the parish line, we noticed there were people gutting their houses. We couldn't see water lines in this area. I wasn't until we came across this house that we realized they must have been completely under water.

The tires and debris on the roof really hit home. The entire street looked like this with the exception of the homes where people had begun cleaning up. Again, all of these photos are from 2/4/2006 not a month after the storm. You can see the grass is finally growing back. One of the early complaints was that there was grey everywhere. It is still in the streets, driveways and sidewalks but the lawns and plants are starting to come back.

This house has been checked 4 times. The X is painted each time the house is checked and there are date and unit numbers as well. This one apparently had a dog in it. This was a little eerie as you could see notes on the house like, 2 dead cat, dog footprints and other random notes. This house was checked almost a month after the storm. The reality is that many houses still have not been checked. They found a body as late at 2/2/2006. I'm sure there are a few more lurking around.

There were also some tent cities. Some tents, some tarps held up with wood. FEMA is providing water and MREs to these people but it didn't look like the best living conditions. It would be nice to have the media really focus on the rebuilding effort or lack there of. It is less than 100 days to hurricane season and we have tent cities and debris everywhere.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

If the Rich Aren't Rebuilding What is Everyone Else Doing?

I spent the last two weekends in New Orleans. If you weren't familiar with some of the areas, you would think that things are getting back to normal. It is not until you talk with store owners or go to the heavily hit areas that you realize how little has been done.

We went to Lakefront first. This is the part of New Orleans that borders Metairie and Lake Ponchartrain. There is a large neutral ground down West End Blvd. that was a large grassy area. A garbage dump size pile of tree trunks and other tree debris is piled up as well as tons of abandoned cars that have been towed there. They don't know what to do with the trees. They want to burn them but are worried that the embers from the fire will set the now dry flooded houses on fire. Who knows what will happen to the cars. They have flooded cars all over the city.

The water level on many houses in this area was up to the 2nd floor. Many of the houses clearly have foundation problems and the streets are getting large potholes. We went to the actual lakefront where the marina and many restaurants are. Much of it looks like it did the week after the hurricane with boats still on levees and in parks, power lines still down and none of the restaurants close to open for business.

I think what is most amazing is that these pictures are not from a week or two after but are from 2/4/2006.