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Contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) continue to perform Blue Roof installations for free to homeowners affected by Hurricane Ida.
Contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) continue to perform Blue Roof installations for free to homeowners affected by Hurricane Ida. (Daniel Rojas/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

NEW ORLEANS (Tribune News Service) — Temporary tarps fluttered on roofs across southeast Louisiana on Sunday, makeshift patches for the holes left by Hurricane Ida two weeks ago.

Those improvised defenses got their first test from rain and stiff breezes on Sunday, as the residents who put them up on their roofs await the sturdier option offered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps' Blue Roofs program, which provides a free and more substantial alternative for keeping the rain out until permanent repairs can be made, has been off to a slow start after Ida. Between Wednesday, when the first roof was installed on a home in New Orleans East, and Saturday, a little over 100 of the heavy-duty tarps had been put in place.

The program always takes a few days to get up to full speed, said Lisa Parker, public affairs division chief for the Corps' Mississippi Valley Division. On the first day, which was Wednesday, contractors are only required to finish one roof, but the corps expects them to be fully rolling within a few days, she said.

Within the next week, the Corps expects to pick up the pace with three contractors and numerous subcontractors on the job, Parker said. Corps officials said earlier this week they hope to be installing up to 800 roofs a day when the program is fully rolling.

"We want to try to protect as many homes, as many properties, as we can," Parker said.

As of Saturday, there had been requests for Blue Roofs on about 50,000 homes in the state and 47,000 of those requests had been validated, according to the Corps. Based on aerial photographs taken after Ida, the Corps has estimated up to 80,000 buildings might need temporary roofing.

Rolling out the program in such a wide-ranging disaster has come with challenges, as contractors have had problems securing fuel and finding housing for their workforce at a time when many others — including utility contractors and other disaster assistance workers — have also been using those resources, Parker said. She also noted that going forward the programs' efforts could be hindered by foul weather: rain or winds over 30 mph will force work to stop.

The Corps roofs are more durable than just a standard tarping. Made from industrial strength plastic sheets and well-secured to the home, they are designed to last at least a month and keep rain out even in extreme conditions.

One of the most significant tests of that design came last year, when Hurricane Delta made landfall in southwest Louisiana, where many homes were protected by the Blue Roofs installed after Hurricane Laura.

"Delta was the first storm that has come through as a Category 2 (through an area where Blue Roofs were in place) and 87% of the roofs came through fine, as if they had been installed that very day," Parker said.

Residents have until September 30 to sign up for the program. Anyone in the 25 parishes eligible for disaster assistance can request one.

Requests for a roof can be made online at blueroof.us or by calling 1-888-766-3258.

While they wait, Parker said residents should get their homes secured however they can. Contractors with the program will remove any other temporary tarping as part of their work.

"Anything they can do now, if they have a tarp, plastic, anything they can do now to protect their roof go ahead and do it," Parker said.

(c)2021 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

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