Friday, November 25, 2005

The Catastrophe Continues

FEMA continues its apparent mission to screw things up as badly as possible. A few weeks ago it announced to the Katrina refugees currently being housed in hotels that as of December 1, they would have to find their own accomodations. That managed to raise such a howl of outrage that the federal agency backtracked a little and extended the deadline a month. Unfortunately, that extension is not particularly helpful because there is nowhere for the bulk of these people to go and no money for them to get there.

While most of the emphasis in news coverage has been focussed on New Orleans (as well it should have, given that a major US city had been wiped out), the entire Gulf Coast region was devastated by the hurricane and the federal government's response. As the Washington Post pointed out in a lengthy article today, Mississippi's coast is still just rubble with no evidence of reconstruction.

PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. -- Three months ago, Katrina all but scoured this old beach town of 8,000 off the face of the Earth. To walk its streets today is to see acres of wreckage almost as untouched as the day the hurricane passed.

No new houses are framed out. No lots cleared. There is just devastation and a lingering stench and a tent city in which hundreds of residents huddle against the first chill of winter and wonder where they'll find the money to rebuild their lives.

...This is the other land laid low by Katrina's fury. Like New Orleans to the west, hundreds of square miles of Mississippi coastland look little better than they did in early September, and many people here harbor anger that the federal government has fallen short and that the nation's attention has turned away. At least 200,000 Mississippians remain displaced, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is short at least 13,000 trailers to house them.

"FEMA continues to be able to mess up a one-car funeral -- we don't begin to have enough money for major reconstruction," said Rep. Gene Taylor (D), who lost his own home in Bay St. Louis. "We're going to have a lot of defaults and bankruptcies.

"The federal response, from highways to housing to trailers, is completely unacceptable."

Roy Necaise, chief operating officer of a regional Mississippi housing authority, said: "We have no federal funds, absolutely none, to rebuild. There's absolutely nothing standing on the coast right now, and it's going to be a long time before we're able to bring folks home.

"Washington has totally let us down, and it's a disgrace."
[Emphasis added]

One of the problems, of course, is that many of the homeowners did not have federal flood insurance, although having it certainly would not have made much of a difference, since the agency that administers that program doesn't have the the funding that would have been required to meet its obligations in this disaster. Flood insurance certainly wouldn't have been feasible for the poor, many of whom lived in apartments or rented homes.

The real problem is that no one at FEMA or Homeland Security was prepared for a real emergency of this magnitude. The failure of imagination right at the start meant that from the initial response to the present, there have been no plans in place to deal with the obvious aftermath of such a storm. What is being made clear each day is that there still is no overarching plan developed for reconstruction, no temporary housing for the workers who are needed to rebuild, no infrastructure to support the return of those who fled and those who stayed, no vision for what a rebuilt and renewed Gulf Coast should be.

All we have are no-bid contracts for rubble removal, a fraction of which has been accomplished. And no one in Congress beyond the Gulf Coast members seems to be following up.



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