Last week, just days after we observed the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, our state was battered by yet another major storm. While we can be thankful Hurricane Gustav wasn’t as destructive as Katrina, the storm still generated a tremendous amount of damage across South Mississippi.
In the days immediately following the storm, I traveled to some of the areas hardest hit by Gustav in order to meet with local leaders and get a better understanding of the type of federal emergency assistance that is needed. Gustav left behind plenty of damage, but the storm also gave our state its first chance to showcase the emergency preparedness improvements we have made over the last three years.
FEDERAL ASSISTANCE NEEDED
In the wake of Gustav, Governor Barbour requested federal disaster assistance for 16 counties that experienced hurricane force winds, flooding, and power outages due to the storm. In order to be better positioned to advocate on behalf of the governor’s request, I traveled to the Gulf Coast and Southwest Mississippi last week, meeting with local leaders and getting a first-hand assessment of the damage just days after Gustav’s landfall.
Across the Coast, I saw the effects of the storm surge and high winds that damaged roads, flooded homes and businesses, scattered debris, and knocked down trees. In Southwest Mississippi, I visited Amite, Wilkinson, Adams, and Franklin Counties, where Gustav continued causing damage days after landfall. The heavy rains and wind that hit this part of the state resulted in flash floods and massive power outages that affected thousands of Mississippians. I learned that many parts of Southwest Mississippi received more damage from last week’s storm than they did as a result of Katrina.
While President Bush was quick to approve federal debris removal assistance for Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties last week, it is clear that additional federal assistance is needed in these counties as well as in other affected parts of the state. I plan to continue working with local officials in support of the governor’s request to ensure federal assistance is delivered quickly to Mississippians who are obviously in need.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM KATRINA
Just as Katrina highlighted weaknesses in our country’s emergency preparedness, Gustav showcased the improvements we have made in the last three years. During Gustav, the coordination between state, federal, and local governments was impressive. Thousands of Mississippians on the Gulf Coast were able to evacuate easily, over 100 shelters in Mississippi safely housed nearly 15,000 evacuees, and law enforcement and National Guard members stayed behind to ensure security in evacuated areas. These examples highlight the successes we had in preparing for Gustav and the lessons learned at all levels of government to ensure we were as ready as possible.
PREPAREDNESS STILL CRITICAL
Now that Gustav has passed, it is important that Mississippians not let their guard down. With three other storms currently in the Atlantic Ocean, we need to remember that hurricane season is still upon us. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to ensure you and your family are prepared for the potential of further storms this year and in the future. I urge you to visit my website at www.wicker.senate.gov for tips so that you are ready should another storm threaten Mississippi. Gustav proved we have increased our level of preparedness since Katrina. By remaining vigilant, we can build on that success to make sure we are even more prepared for the next storm.