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Progress for many at home and on the job

Mississippians getting back on their feet

Despite some snafus, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been helping Mississippians get back on their feet at home and at work following the debilitating aftermath created by Hurricane Katrina.

On September 9, FEMA director Michael Brown was replaced with Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, following criticism about Brown’s handling of responsibilities of managing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, especially along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“Something needed to be done,” said U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss), who lost his Pascagoula home during the category four storm. “While I have been hesitant to publicly criticize Michael Brown, my staff and I had already concluded that FEMA was overwhelmed, undermanned and not capable of doing its job. When you’re in the middle of a disaster, you can’t stop to check the legal niceties or to review FEMA regulations before deciding to help Mississippians knocked flat on their backs. FEMA needs to just say ‘yes’ and get it done.”

The day before, FEMA, a former independent agency that became part of the new Department of Homeland Security in March 2003, had sent more than 1,000 mobile homes to Jackson for use in the metro area to help displaced families settle in the capital city. After initially being staged in the Smith-Wills Stadium parking lot and other locations, Jackson Mayor Frank Melton said he plans to incorporate those homes into existing city mobile home parks. FEMA plans to distribute 270,000 mobile homes in the tri-state area affected by the disaster.

“We were down with the Vice President and Secretary Truhoff in the areas,” said FEMA’s federal coordinating officer Bill Carwile, “and a lady came up to me and asked, ‘Can I get a FEMA trailer to go in my home? I don’t want to leave my home.’ And that’s absolutely correct. People can do that. They have that option. Once folks call that number, a housing inspector will come out and look at the home. And then we’ll make the determination when we can get the hookups if people would like to take that option. Meanwhile, we’re looking for those group sites. We have four housing strike teams. They’re out dealing with the counties right now trying to identify those sites.”

Gov. Haley Barbour said FEMA and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) have been able “to inject a considerable amount of liquidity into local governments by doing estimates of damage and advancing the local governments a percentage of the estimated damage so they can make their payrolls, so that they can keep their employees working to keep their operations going. And we appreciate that.”

Red Cross sees record numbers

Help is also coming in record numbers from the American Red Cross in terms of shelter, food and safe drinking water.

“This is the largest response to a single natural disaster in the 125 years of the American Red Cross, and there’s no doubt it will set many records in terms of the length and expanse of the operation,” said Joe Becker, senior vice president of preparedness and response for the American Red Cross.

The shelter census of 118,556 for September 3 set a Red Cross record for one-night accommodation. Of those, 12,870 were housed in 102 shelters in Mississippi, a benchmark that was later expanded to 15,418 evacuees housed in 120 shelters located throughout the state.

Emergency response vehicles (ERVs) throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have delivered more than 2.6 million meals and more than 3.3 million snacks to storm victims and rescue workers. Nearly 5,000 trained Red Cross disaster specialists have been deployed in 13 states and at the non-profit agency’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The American Red Cross has also created the Family Links Hotline, which assists individuals seeking family and friends in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The family registry can be accessed at redcross.org or by calling (877) 568-3317.

82 counties qualify

On September 7, the federal public and individual assistance outreach was expanded when President George W. Bush granted Mississippi’s request to add counties to the Hurricane Katrina Presidential Disaster Declaration. Now all 82 counties qualify for FEMA’s individual or public assistance programs.

“I’m grateful that President Bush is granting our request that will allow us to provide assistance and help to so many Mississippians who are in need,” said Barbour.

Nearly 100,000 Mississippians have signed up for FEMA relief, at the rate of about 10,000 per day. “We still know that there are thousands and thousands of people who are probably eligible or need to find out if they are eligible for disaster individual assistance, and the only way you can find out is to apply,” said Barbour.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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