The wreckage at the other end of the Mississippi River is staggering. With a slow-moving weather system dumping 20 inches or more of rainfall in parts of Louisiana, waterways in the low-lying delta state have obliterated historic high-water marks and flooded much of its southeast quadrant.
The result: 20,000 people needing rescue and an estimated 40,000 homes or businesses without power, according to CNN. Twelve thousand people are in emergency shelters, while volunteers in the so-called “Cajun Navy” prowl washed-out neighborhoods with personal boats in search of those still in need of aid.
It’s unclear if the scale of destruction — or the amount of assistance Louisianans will need to get back on their feet — has truly sunk in nationally. Jaw-dropping images of waves washing up against entire communities’ rooftops are competing in this news-saturated year with the Olympics, a presidential election, and violence here and abroad.
That’s unfortunate, because the road to recovery will be a long one. Just one in five homes in Louisiana has flood insurance, according to federal emergency management figures. The percentage may be even slimmer in some of the hardest-hit areas. Against this backdrop is a state government that struggled with a nearly $1 billion operating deficit this year. And the state regularly has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation: 19.6 percent vs. a national average of 12.4 percent. In rural areas, it’s 24.2 percent.
Federal disaster aid is likely, but it often comes in the form of loans. This assistance will help some, but it will still leave many unable to rebuild, especially if the strapped state cannot provide additional aid.
Private nonprofits are on the scene, thankfully, but their resources pale next to the need. Donations are sorely needed. Reputable organizations providing assistance include the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Save the Children’s Gulf Coast Disaster Relief Fund and the United Way of Southeast Louisiana.
Congress is already under pressure to cut its end-of-summer recess short and pass funding to combat the Zika virus. The Louisiana flooding also demands quick action by lawmakers and leadership from President Obama, whose decision to remain on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard rather than visit the area is indefensible. Work on an aid package for the ravaged region should begin now. It shouldn’t wait until after Labor Day.