Family that evacuated New Orleans still can’t return home due to damage from Ida

Frank & Ateja Lewis, both teachers, have home that was severely damaged

NEW ORLEANS, La. – A New Orleans family that was forced to evacuate their house ahead of Hurricane Ida still hadn’t returned home as of Monday.

The family has learned they can’t live in their house because the roof was badly damage. And now, hot and humid weather is causing mold to grow all throughout.

To make matters worse, Frank Lewis said, the search for affordable temporary shelter has been difficult.

“I never even thought about sleeping in my car before or sleeping on a beach or something like that, but that was actually our reality,” Lewis said.

Lewis first spoke with News4Jax when he and his family evacuated New Orleans and headed to Pensacola. He and his wife, Ateja, are both teachers.

It’s not the first time a hurricane has devastated the home. During Hurricane Katrina, it was submerged.

This time, the house sits several feet higher, but water stains and growing mold show how high the floodwaters rose. Mold is also growing on furniture in the home.

For the couple, returning home is difficult for more than one reason.

“Everybody we’ve been talking to back home say the gas situation is horrible,” said Ateja Lewis. “Getting food is horrible. The unbearable heat is horrible.”

The couple, along with 12 of their relatives -- some who are senior citizens with medical problems -- were forced to evacuate ahead of Ida.

Finding hotels at affordable rates has proven difficult, especially during the Labor Day weekend.

The family was approved by FEMA to get financial assistance to pay for a hotel, but they found themselves paying out of pocket because they say some of the hotels that are on an approved list are not accepting vouchers.

A FEMA customer service representative told News4Jax there are cases when a hotel can appear on a FEMA list, but won’t actually be part of the assistance program -- either because they have not called FEMA to take themselves off the list or because hotels have not set up a payment account with FEMA.

The representative also says hotels on the list that refuse to accept a voucher need to be reported immediately to FEMA.

The family said it had set aside some money, which is being used to pay for the hotels, but it said those funds are running low. FEMA said as long as they saved their receipts, the money should be reimbursed.

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