Gulf Coast officials ask Congress for money

Tuesday, September 23rd 2008, 4:10 pm

By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Gulf Coast officials asked lawmakers on Tuesday for fast federal money for hurricane recovery and a minimum of bureaucratic red tape.

Texas is looking at $11.4 billion in damages from Ike, including $16 million in damages to Houston, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said. Devastation in Galveston is another $2 billion, that city's mayor said.

Louisiana is facing $1 billion in damages from Ike and Gustav, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu said. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said in prepared testimony that the $40 million cost of evacuating his city for Hurricane Gustav has led to hiring freezes and a halt of any new expenditures until disaster costs are reimbursed.

Houston Mayor Bill White asked that money be sent directly to the city for immediate use to streamline the reimbursement process. He asked that the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator be given the authority to come up with new, flexible recovery programs.

Just more than a week ago, Hurricane Ike battered Galveston with 110 mph winds and a 12-foot storm surge and has been blamed for 61 deaths, including 26 in Texas.

More than 1 million people evacuated the Texas coast, and about 45,000 residents fled Galveston Island, about 50 miles southeast of Houston.

Texas officials told Congress Tuesday they want all available FEMA trailers that do not have dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

After the hearing, however, FEMA's deputy administrator, Harvey Johnson, said FEMA would provide some temporary housing for Texas but no trailers.

FEMA was criticized for providing thousands of Katrina victims with trailers that were later discovered to have high levels of formaldehyde -- a preservative commonly used in building materials. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can lead to breathing problems and is also believed to cause cancer. Residents of FEMA-issued trailers reported frequent headaches, nosebleeds and other ailments. Katrina evacuees are still living in these formaldehyde-ridden travel trailers, and Nagin told House lawmakers he has not seen an adequate plan from FEMA to prevent this from happening in the future. The national housing strategy is still in draft form, but Johnson said the plan should be final sometime this fall.

Johnson also said that FEMA is prepared to work with White's requests for direct assistance as much as the agency is able to. The law requires that the federal government deals with the state and does not provide funding directly to the local communities.

Galveston mayor Lyda Ann Thomas also testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday and praised FEMA for its performance during Ike.

But other officials complained some FEMA supplies were late and some shelters were inadequate. Nagin proposed that the federal government create a national sheltering plan, citing weaknesses in his state's shelters used during this hurricane season. These shelters are the state's responsibility, not the federal government's, Johnson said.

Louisiana State Sen. Reggie Dupre Jr. criticized the Army Corps of Engineers for not constructing levees in his district since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Dupre's district, Terrebonne Parish, experienced the worst flooding in its history. He said the federal government appropriated $30 million in 2006 to build nonfederal levees, but the Army Corps has not spent any of it in Terrebonne Parish. "Some levees are better than no levees," Dupre said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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