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3 Investigates: Emergency shelters built in Louisiana & Mississi - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: 3 Investigates: Emergency shelters built in Louisiana & Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina

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LA has built only one shelter since Hurricane Katrina, the 'mega shelter' in Alexandria. LA has built only one shelter since Hurricane Katrina, the 'mega shelter' in Alexandria.
The Original Plan Approved in 2006 FEMA Katrina Shelters Alexandria Shreveport Monroe The Original Plan Approved in 2006 FEMA Katrina Shelters Alexandria Shreveport Monroe
Louisiana state and parish run shelters and capacity Louisiana state and parish run shelters and capacity
Mississippi Safe Room FEMA 361 Shelters Map Mississippi Safe Room FEMA 361 Shelters Map
1 of the new Mississippi Shelters built to FEMA 361 standards 1 of the new Mississippi Shelters built to FEMA 361 standards
LOUISIANA/MISSISSIPPI -

Hurricane Katrina was a rude awakening for gulf states in terms of emergency preparedness.

Adequate places to shelter evacuees away from the most devastated areas were few and far between.

Eight years later, state officials say Louisiana's focus has been on recovery.

"The state has only fully built one shelter," explains Mark Riley, Deputy Director of Recovery for the LA Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP).

The original plan was to use $33 million to build three permanent shelters- one each in Alexandria, Monroe, and Shreveport.  

UPDATE - That decision was made by the Louisiana Legislature in 2006, with House Bill 2, which appropriated $33 million for shelterS, statewide.  HB2 was signed into law by then Governor Kathleen Blanco on July 11, 2006.  Attempts by KTBS to find out more about the expenditures on the Alexandria Mega-Shelter are still underway and have not yet yielded any substantive information.  (9/12/2013)

But the three shelters planned were not built.  

And over $27 million state dollars later, Louisiana owns just one shelter in Alexandria, near LSU-A, which can hold about 2,250 people.

"It's estimated that we would need space for about 50,000 of the critical transportation shelter evacuees," Riley says.

Though the goal is to shelter 50,000 people, the reality falls short.

"We can probably shelter right at around 30,000 people," says Riley.

Fellow gulf state Mississippi went in another direction in the type of sheltering, constructing safe rooms across the state.

Safe rooms meet Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria in order to provide 'near-absolute' protection from extreme weather events and be self-sufficient.

Mississippi currently has over 223 community and government safe rooms completed.

Louisiana hasn't completed construction on any safe rooms.

And while Louisiana spends $3,700 a day in rent on converted warehouses, Mississippi - or its counties - own every one of their shelters. (Watch my story on rented shelters in Shreveport/Bossier, here.) 

Riley says the state can shelter about 30,000 people, while Mississippi officials say the new safe rooms have added a total of 81,000 to their sheltering capacity. 

"They're there for all types of severe weather. Right now, of the 361 saferooms, we have 40 of them completed," explains Greg Flynn, External Affairs Director for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

The safe rooms in Mississippi can hold 31,000 people in nine counties, and can withstand 200 mile per hour winds and F-5 tornados.

"We have 32 more that are under construction with the capacity of another 21,000," explains Flynn.

He says all of the safe rooms south of Highway 84 in Mississippi were fully funded by the FEMA.

He says the others are paid for with 95 percent federal money and 5 percent county.

"It was all of our counties that applied for these grants," says Flynn.  And the rest were built by individuals or families and then reimbursed by FEMA.  

Back in Louisiana, Riley says their focus has been sheltering out of harm's way, often for weeks at a time, as opposed to constructing safe rooms that are designed to hold people for 36-72 hours.  And while tornados are a major threat to the parts of the state, the largest threat for Louisiana overall, as identified by GOHSEP, is Storm Surge and Flooding.  

"We want to build full-blown shelters with kitchen capacity and sleeping capacity and something that can make somebody comfortable for a longer period of time."

So why hasn't that happened?

Riley says it's because FEMA isn't willing to fully fund them.

"We have to combine these dollars with other dollars in order to, you know, create the multi-use type facilities."

Riley says in 2009, the Louisiana legislature appropriated $7.5 million for parishes to upgrade existing buildings in order to be used as safe rooms.

He says about 14 of those are planned across the state, with capabilities for other uses within each community outside of hurricane season.

"Enhance existing buildings and in which case, if existing buildings were enhanced, then those buildings could be used by the state for sheltering," Riley says.

And both states say their biggest success since Katrina have been the formation of strategic plans to in the face of another major disaster.

"It plays into the mega shelter, it plays into the investments we've made with state funding, it plays into our uses with the hazard mitigation dollars," Riley says.

"It's still a work in progress. Because the further we get away from Hurricane Katrina, will they evacuate next time? Will they take the next one seriously?" questions Flynn.

Louisiana officials explained that safe rooms capable of withstanding F5 tornados, were not as important as getting large numbers of people away from storm surge and flooding.

But tornados are a high threat for many parishes, especially here in Caddo and Bossier Parishes.

GOHSEP listed Bossier, Arcadia and Caddo Parishes as the top three (out of the top ten) for high wind hazard ranking based on the total number of historical incidents, fatalities, and damage involving tornados.

Louisiana also received $75 million in federal funds to build Katrina cottages, or Alternative Housing Pilot Program (AHPP), in the wake of the hurricane.

The legislative auditor found that the state built 461 cottages at 12 sites in the Lake Charles, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans areas from 2006 to 2011, 2 1/2 years past the original grant deadline.

The audit says the program encountered several delays attributed problems with construction deficiencies and occupancy issues.

The average construction cost was $145,216 per cottage, not including land and infrastructure costs.

Mississippi has built 2,600 similar cottages.  

GOHSEP recently made headlines when another report brought to light waste related to ice purchased after hurricanes and left to melt.  You can watch that coverage, here.  

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