By Cyndi Sellers
It’s been over a year since Hurricane Laura damaged cemeteries in lower Cameron Parish, toppling headstones, lifting vaults, and displacing coffins. The Louisiana Cemetery Recovery Task Force offered to help repair damaged graves with financial assistance from FEMA, but as of this All Soul’s Day not much has been done. Ryan Seidemann, director of the program, says his agency has documented all the damage and sent the reports to the state office, where they were approved. The problem has been with getting FEMA to release the promised funds. The estimates were received nine months ago, he said, but not processed.
There is hopeful news, though. In the past few weeks FEMA has started paying out, and many headstones have been re-set. In the past couple of weeks, staff changes at FEMA have returned several people who have experience with cemetery work from the 2016 floods.
At Sacred Heart cemetery in Creole, for example, the contractor has done most of the tombstone standup work. They are now waiting on FEMA funds to do the vault and lid replacements. In other cemeteries the Task Force has been actively seeking sponsors for “orphan” graves. Contractors tend to wait for multiple jobs at a given site to make equipment transportation most efficient. First Baptist Church of Cameron’s cemetery now has a contractor, and the revised estimates should reach FEMA this week. Other cemeteries should be moving along also.
Coffins displaced from mausoleums have now been approved for in-ground burials. The trucks holding recovered coffins were removed from the Creole site before Hurricane Ida and will probably stay in Lafayette until re-interments begin. Recovery efforts are still going on, Seidemann said, with a new push starting soon. Contracts are in place for underwater scanning in December.
“The log jam is breaking at FEMA.” says Seidemann, “and real noticeable work is expected soon.” With many reports of cemetery damage coming in from Hurricane Ida impacted areas, he thinks FEMA may want to clear the Laura/Delta cases quickly.