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Louisiana's Lieutenant Governor Is Familiar With Disaster Responses


Let's hear now from Louisiana, where at least 13 people have been killed and some 40,000 homes damaged by flooding this week in Baton Rouge. The state's lieutenant governor, Billy Nungesser, knows something about disaster response. During his time as president of Plaquemines Parish, his community faced five hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Lt. Gov. Nungesser joins us now. Good morning.

BILLY NUNGESSER: Good morning. How you doing this morning?

MONTAGNE: I'm doing pretty well. I'm wondering about you all down there. With waters receding, you're just starting to see the scale of this - these historic floods. What's the biggest challenge?

NUNGESSER: Well, the biggest challenge is that some of these people have never flooded before. People lived there 40, 50 years and never saw this kind of flooding. Along the coast, we're used to it from hurricanes. So a lot of people didn't evacuate - getting them out. And also, it's spread out across 20 parishes in Louisiana. Usually, we see a hurricane attack one area of the coast. So we can concentrate our efforts to that one area. Here, it's spread across 20 parishes. A lot of elected officials and people have never been through this before.

MONTAGNE: And I gather, also, from our reporting, a lot of people there do not have flood insurance. And FEMA's administrator was in Louisiana this week assessing what's needed. You said earlier this week that FEMA is not going to be coming in writing checks like it did after Katrina.

NUNGESSER: Well - and a lot of people have that misconception - is after Katrina, FEMA did make people whole pretty much if they didn't have flood insurance. The laws have changed. The maximum an individual can get if they're not in a flood zone and don't have insurance is something around $33,000. And the average check is around $7,500.

So it's not going to be an easy road for a lot of people without flood insurance. We're going to have to make that up with volunteers and private donations. There's a lot of elderly people that just didn't - on a tight budget, didn't see the need for flood insurance.

MONTAGNE: So that's a big challenge ahead. You know, after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, you were known as a very much in-your-face advocate for Plaquemines Parish. You've said that's what it took to get the help that your parish needed. What about this time?

NUNGESSER: I tell you, I can't be more - FEMA has been on the ground, has been flying around with us every day. Craig Fugate was down here giving answers to the governor. So the team effort for this - I'm very proud of the way the whole team's working together. The National Guard, the sheriffs, the volunteers - neighbor helping neighbors. But FEMA has been on the ground and has really done a good job thus far through this disaster.

I can't tell you - there's been a whole huge change since Katrina in the response, in wanting to get people on the ground. They're on the ground already, meeting with people at the shelters, getting the information. And as you know, after Katrina, it took a long time. So they've gotten a lot better. And things are really working well so far.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly - with there more rains to come, I hear.

NUNGESSER: It's - and the ground is soaked. We had some heavy rain yesterday. So we're definitely not out of the woods yet. As that water flows south, some other areas in the southern parishes are going to be challenged, as this water has to go somewhere. And we're scheduled to get more rain. So it's not over.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, you all take care. Billy Nungesser is the lieutenant governor of Louisiana. Thank you very much for joining us.

NUNGESSER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.