Cemetery Association calls for help with hurricane-damaged graves

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Hurricane Laura severely damaged more than 320 graves in historic Orange Grove and Graceland cemeteries on Broad Street. Lake Charles Cemetery Association treasurer Lilynn Cutrer said Tuesday the cost of the repairs is estimated at nearly $200,000.

The association is asking residents who have already registered for FEMA assistance from Hurricanes Laura and Delta to use a FEMA program that provides funds to help repair and restore graves.

Under FEMA’s Good Samaritan option, the agency will fund up to $8,000 per household for various cemetery repairs, such as caskets, containers, vaults, urns, headstones and damaged graves. The option is open to any resident with a FEMA case number, even those who have been denied assistance, Cutrer said.

Cutrer said Hurricane Laura uprooted more than 100 trees in Orange Grove/Graceland, causing them to shatter tombstones and headstones.

“It’s pretty massive,” she said. “It’s everything from broken bricks to cracked mausoleum doors.”

Not all graves will be repaired unless the full amount of funding is secured, Cutrer said.

“We want everyone’s graves repaired, especially those who don’t have loved ones here to help them,” she said.

Those interested in applying should call the Louisiana Cemetery Response Task Force, an agency operated by the Louisiana Attorney General’s office. Ryan Siedemann, chair of the task force, said the program lasts 18 months from the time a disaster is declared, with four to five months remaining after Hurricane Laura.

“It’s getting too close for comfort now,” he said. “We are making that last big push to get Calcasieu Parish across the finish line and get every grave repaired. That’s the main thing for us.”

A problem with the damaged graves at Orange Grove/Graceland is that some families moved out or died, leaving no one to step forward and help with repairs, Siedemann said.

“We’re trying to bridge that gap,” he said.

Money used for cemetery repairs does not impact individual assistance residents have or will receive from FEMA for housing and other disaster-related expenses. Siedemann said there was no impact on a person’s tax liability to receive FEMA funds for funeral assistance.

Residents who do not have family graves in the Orange Grove/Graceland cemeteries, but still want to help with repairs, can still apply.

While Orange Grove/Graceland is the task force’s top priority due to the extent of hurricane damage, Siedemann said residents wishing to help with other local cemeteries can request the option through the FEMA.

Residents who apply will receive a consent form and a promissory note stating that money received from FEMA will be used for cemetery repairs, Cutrer said. A check will be sent to the claimant and later endorsed to the contractor performing the repairs.

To help with the restoration of Orange Grove and Graceland cemeteries, call Louisiana Cemetery Response Task Force at 225-326-6065 or email [email protected]louisiana.gov.

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