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Louisiana Veteran Flood Victims Still Find Recovery Programs Tough To Navigate


It's been just over 100 days since floodwaters rose up to the rooftops in Baton Rouge, La. The so-called 1,000-year flood hit neighborhoods that had never seen such a disaster. But to some flood victims, it was all too familiar - those who moved to Baton Rouge from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina about a decade ago. In August, Eve Troeh of member station WWNO shared the story of a woman hit by Katrina and this summer's flood. They recently spoke again.

EVE TROEH, BYLINE: There's still nowhere to sit inside Myra Engrum's flooded house. It's a construction zone. So we talk in the backyard near her citrus tree, heavy with bright orange satsumas.

MYRA ENGRUM: And they're all ready. But understand a friend of mine told me that if it got in contact with any of the sewer water, don't eat the fruit this year. So this is the best crop I've had (laughter).

TROEH: So you've got this beautiful tree full of citrus fruit, full of satsumas...

ENGRUM: And we can't eat - right, can't eat them.

TROEH: Flood recovery is full of such twists. Take fixing up her house. Engrum had flood insurance. Most of her neighbors here in Baton Rouge didn't. And she found a contractor right away through her church. But the insurance process has slowed her down.

ENGRUM: So you fill out this paperwork, your contractor fills out the paperwork. And they do a certain amount of work, and then they send an inspector. Then they say, OK, now we'll give you a few more dollars, maybe a third or a fourth of the total. And then the process starts over again. They do more work.

TROEH: That stop and start makes a move-in date unclear. The construction noise in the background is not from her house. It's her neighbors'. Every home on Acacia Street flooded. Engrum envies families with savings or who could afford a private loan to fix things up. Many of them are back while Engrum and her son Jeremiah are in a hotel, paid for now by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Engrums have been at this hotel about two months. Her son likes the pool, of course, but they can't do things they'd normally do, like cook.

ENGRUM: I got a little George Foreman grill. I do bread on there and I've done some fish. I've learned how to cook eggs in a microwave. I didn't know how to do that before.

TROEH: It's not ideal. Every 30 days, FEMA decides whether it will keep paying for her hotel. Twice now Engrum's waited anxiously to learn whether she and Jeremiah will have to get out the next day. We drive to get Jeremiah from his nearby school. As Myra Engrum winds through the neighborhood, some houses are still wrecked. Others are repaired. A few have a government-issued mobile housing unit, what used to be called a FEMA trailer.

ENGRUM: And see, there's a FEMA trailer. That's what they look like now. And who qualifies for it and how did they get them? It's a mystery.

TROEH: We scoop up her 10-year-old son, a little surprised to see me with the microphone.

ENGRUM: Hey, Jer (ph). Hi.

JEREMIAH ENGRUM: I knew something weird was going to happen. Hi.

TROEH: Hi. You probably don't remember me.

ENGRUM: Do you remember...

JEREMIAH: From the last time, from summer camp.


School had not even started yet.

ENGRUM: So how was your day today, dear? Did you have a good day?

JEREMIAH: It was good and it was fun.

TROEH: We head back to the house so Jeremiah can ride his bike.


JEREMIAH: It finally works.

TROEH: And we check out progress inside their home.

So here we are coming in the back room. It looks like a house. There are walls up. There were just, you know, exposed beams last time.

ENGRUM: So they put the insulation in back in the walls. They put the primer on.

TROEH: How are you feeling about staying in this house, staying here long-term?

ENGRUM: Guess I have some mixed feelings about it because I will always be wondering, is there going to be another flood? You know, are we going to have to start all over again? I will live lighter...

TROEH: (Laughter).

ENGRUM: ...Think a little bit differently about how I, you know, even buy things. I want to work on a clutter-free life.

TROEH: Myra Engrum and her son have had a lot of help from family and strangers. One day, a gift card arrived for books. Another day it was a new boy scout uniform. A bus came from Florida full of people who gutted homes and cooked for her whole neighborhood. And so she still sings.

ENGRUM: (Singing) Oh, lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need.

TROEH: It's all a lot like what she saw when her New Orleans apartment flooded after Hurricane Katrina - systems and programs frustrating to navigate, individual people ready to give.

For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh in Baton Rouge, La. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eve Troeh was WWNO's first-ever News Director, hired to start the local news department in 2013. She left WWNO in 2017 to serve as Sustainability Editor at Marketplace.