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Evangeline Parish residents concerned with how FEMA checks are being spent

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Evangeline Parish -

There are concerns about how checks issued by FEMA for flood recovery are being used in one cemetery in Ville Platte.

The cemetery in question is St. Matthew's Church Cemetery in Ville Platte.  Tombs shifted from the ground during the August floods and are now unrecognizable. In total, 113 tombs were damaged.

FEMA sent out $600 to $4500 per tomb in the cemetery, depending on damages. Even with the help from FEMA, not everyone is agreeing on how it should be used. Willie Roy's family is buried at the cemetery and he says he's afraid the money isn't going to the tombs.

"I cannot sit here and watch people make personal gain from this tragedy," Roy said. 

According to the police jury spokesperson KATC spoke to, FEMA gave individual checks to anyone who was responsible for the damaged tombs.Those checks are supposed to be used to fix the tombs.

The church preferred using one contractor, so all the work could be accounted for. They requested everyone who got a check, turn it over so the tombs would be fixed, properly and completely.

A total of 113 checks were mailed out, but only 30 checks were turned over to the police jury. Roy' s family turned in their checks hoping all family members could soon rest in peace again.

"All we ask them to do is give the funds over or if you decide to hire someone else, do that," Roy said. 

We spoke with Arthur Sampson who received a check for a damaged tomb but hasn't given it over to the chosen contractor. He told us he wants to shop around for a better price. 

"I was given $4500," Arthur Sampson said. "Mine was deposited to my account so I made a cashier check and I talked to FEMA.They said I could pay the guy and send the money back. He will give me a receipt and I would send a money back."

Sampson doesn't have a family member in the cemetery and he doesn't own a tomb. He's one of the people who stepped up as part of a "good Samaritan " program.

The police jury says the "good Samaritan" program is a way for tombs that are not accounted for can get fixed. FEMA sends the money to the good Samaritan who promises to get the work done.

"I think everyone has good intentions," Sampson said. "People are skeptical. You want me to sign the check, but the work is not done.I don't even know what graves have to be done I don't want to turn in money when I don't know what's going on.We want it fixed right and properly." 

Roy, however, worries that those without loved ones buried at the cemetery won't keep their promise to help restore the cemetery to an acceptable condition.

"We have to do what we can to maintain this graveyard," Roy said. "We  still have family that come here to get buried and one day this is where I'm going to be and I wanted to make sure it's kept up."  

The Attorney General has requested that the contractor not complete any work to the cemetery until it is discussed at the next council meeting Monday. 

We reached out to FEMA, and a spokesman sent us the following statement: 

"Grant funds are disbursed to individuals of Evangeline Parish (St. Matthew's Church) for reinterment assistance. FEMA will assist individuals based on a detailed bill or estimate to fix the damage. Many individuals have entered into contracts and or legally binding promissory notes stating they will use their grant funds to have the repairs done.  The Louisiana Attorney General's office is tracking this process to assure individual compliance."

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