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|Ouachita left off president's disaster list|
Standing outside the Monroe Civic Center, Jimmy Herbert waited Wednesday to learn when he could return to his New Orleans home.
The 85-year-old veteran of the D-Day invasion saw two hand-written signs. The signs said, "Shelter Full" and "No FEMA."
As of Wednesday afternoon, residents of Ouachita Parish were not eligible for federal assistance through "grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects" of Hurricane Gustav, according to a news release issued by the White House and forwarded to media outlets statewide by Gov. Bobby Jindal's office. The news release listed parishes throughout the state that President Bush declared were eligible for assistance from the federal government in the wake Gustav.
Jindal's press office distributed the news release Tuesday. The news release also said Ouachita Parish was not eligible for any federal funding to help the parish deal with debris removal.
Ouachita Parish Police Jury President Walt Caldwell told The Ouachita Citizen he had questioned local and state FEMA officials about the situation. He said he did not get any answers.
"There are five parishes in south Louisiana not on the list, either," said Caldwell. "We don't know why."
Unless President Bush designates Ouachita Parish a federal disaster area local governments and non-profit agencies could face not being reimbursed for housing more than 5,000 evacuees, in addition to the costs associated with repairing storm damage.
When contacted by The Ouachita Citizen, White House spokesperson Blair Jones said the White House had no comment on why Bush's disaster declaration excluded north Louisiana parishes.
However, Jones referred questions to Denise Everhart, a spokesperson for Federal Emergency Management Agency, in Baton Rouge.
Everhart said Bush's disaster declaration may be expanded to include parishes the president's original order did not include. He said FEMA did not possess the authority to include Ouachita Parish in the president's disaster declaration.
"We can't do it until the governor asks," Everhart said.
Melissa Sellers, Gov. Jindal's press secretary, was unavailable Wednesday.
In the meantime, Everhart said FEMA officials were assessing damages in each parish throughout the state. Assistance may become available for Ouachita Parish, Everhart said.
Anne Patton, executive director of the Northeast Louisiana chapter of the American Red Cross, said it was impossible to estimate how much money it cost to operate evacuation shelters throughout the parish and region.
"The costs of running a disaster shelter are immense," Patton said. "No one knows how much it can cost."
Patton said the local Red Cross chapter and the national organization had been "operating at a deficit" since 2005, or when the Red Cross had to house evacuees during hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Because of that deficit and the possibility that federal funding may not be forthcoming in the wake of Gustav, Patton encouraged people to donate money to the Red Cross.
"We need people who don't have a chance to help in the shelters to dig deep and make a donation to the local American Red Cross," Patton said.