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Hurricane evacuees protest federal response

by CHEVEL JOHNSON THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | September 12, 2020 at 4:06 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS -- About two dozen Hurricane Laura evacuees and their advocates marched through the streets of New Orleans to protest what they called the "slow response" from the federal government on getting them financial assistance.

Evacuees from Lake Charles, DeRidder, Vinton and other cities hit hard when Laura raked Louisiana last month carried signs that read "FEMA -- The people of Lake Charles need assistance now" and "FEMA -- Lake Charles children need school today." Thursday's march ended at the federal building in New Orleans, where they chanted, "What do we want?" "Justice," "When do we want it?" "Now."

Estevan Hernandez of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, one of the march's organizers, said Lake Charles and its surroundings have suffered $10 billion to $12 billion in damage from Laura but FEMA has released only $29 million.

"The government needs to give more," he said. "When will these people get some answers and real relief? People have been abandoned in Lake Charles, and that's why we're out here today."

FEMA issued a statement Thursday that the agency is "fully engaged, and our top priorities continue to be survivor needs and power and water restoration. We are working with our local, state, and federal partners to facilitate these actions in an effective manner."

The statement added that FEMA has so far registered more than 131,000 Louisiana survivors and put more than $73 million in the hands of residents -- nearly $47 million for housing assistance and more than $26 million in other aid.

Jennifer Fisher, 44, of Lake Charles said the roof was ripped off the home she shares with her mother and the shed that was behind the house now sits in the front yard.

"FEMA is just not acting quickly enough," she said. "There's so much red tape."

Fisher said she's been seeking financial assistance from FEMA for weeks and that now she's being asked for a copy of her identification, which she doesn't have.

"Until I can get a copy of the ID, which costs $31, they can't help me. I told them I don't have any money for an ID. So what am I supposed to do?" she said. "I'm at a standstill. I'm stuck. I guess I've just got to keep the faith and keep God first and know that he's going to work this out."

Tyla Simms, 30, also from Lake Charles, said her trailer home was flipped over during the storm and there's no time frame on when she and her four children will be able to return.

"We're just waiting. The bottom line is we need help," she said. "People think because we didn't have the flood that we're OK. But that's not the case. Go walk through there and see. Poles down everywhere, buildings smashed to rubble. It's just awful."

Both Fisher and Simms thanked New Orleans for its kindness during the storm's aftermath.

"It's not the city. The city's been great. It's the federal government," Simms said.

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