Southern Louisiana flooding and civil legal aid (2016)

In August 2016, prolonged rainfall in southern parts of the U.S. state of Louisiana resulted in catastrophic flooding that submerged thousands of houses and businesses. Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, called the disaster a “historic, unprecedented flooding event” and declared a state of emergency. Many rivers and waterways, particularly the Amite and Comite rivers, reached record levels, and rainfall exceeded 20 inches (510 mm) in multiple parishes.

Because of the large number of homeowners without flood insurance that were affected, the federal government is providing disaster aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The flood has been called the worst US natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 13 deaths have been reported as a result of the flooding.

In the immediate aftermath of the flood, nearly 7,000 families could not qualify for FEMA assistance because they didn’t have clear title on their home according to Laura Tuggle, executive director of Southeast Louisiana Legal Services. Later, there were still about 2,600 lower-income families who need to prove they own their houses.

Tuggle recounted a client’s story: The woman lived in a home that had belonged to her grandmother, who died 20 years ago. The resident’s mother has also since died, and the woman lives in the family home but isn’t listed as the legal owner because a formal succession document was never written.

The living arrangement, however, had never been a problem. That is, until the house flooded and the woman could not receive help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Tuggle said.