Cemetery Association asking for help with hurricane-damaged graves

Published 8:37 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Not every grave will be repaired if the full funding amount isn’t secured, Cutrer said.

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

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

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

One issue with damaged graves at Orange Grove/Graceland is that some families have either moved away or died, leaving no one to step forward and help with repairs, Siedemann said.

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

The money used for cemetery repairs does not impact individual assistance residents have or will receive from FEMA for housing and other disaster expenses. Siedemann said there is no impact on a person’s tax liability for receiving funds from FEMA for funeral assistance.

Residents who don’t have family graves at Orange Grove/Graceland cemeteries, yet still want to help with repairs, can still apply.

While Orange Grove/Graceland is the task force’s top priority because of the scope of hurricane damage, Siedemann said residents wanting to help with other local cemeteries can apply for the option through FEMA.

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

To help with restoring Orange Grove and Graceland cemeteries, call the Louisiana Cemetery Response Task Force at 225-326-6065 or email cemeterytaskforce@ag.louisiana.gov.