Congress Contributes $51.4 Billion for Hurricane Relief

WASHINGTON, DC, September 9, 2005 (ENS) - Congress passed a $51.4 billion emergency spending measure to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina Thursday, bringing the amount appropriated to ease the disaster to $62 billion.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said, "Getting our affected Gulf Coast states the aid they need to help victims and rebuild communities continues to be our highest priority. Today's passage is the second aid package in recent days, and it illustrates one thing: this Congress is serious about doing everything we can to help local, state and federal officials respond to this crisis."

After a slow start in responding to the plight of hundreds of thousands of people who lost everything to the storm, the federal government is now making arrangements to assist them.

Bush

President George W. Bush outlines further assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina, Thursday in Washington. Joining the President, left to right, Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Alphonso Jackson; Secretary of Health & Human Services Michael Leavitt; ecretary of Labor, Elaine Chao; and Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns. (Photo by Paul Morse courtesy The White House)
Flanked by Cabinet members, President George W. Bush Thursday announced that the government is providing $2,000 in immediate emergency disaster relief to every household affected by Hurricane Katrina. This is money that can be used for immediate needs, such as food, clothing or personal essentials.

"Many of you have been evacuated from the flooded and destroyed areas and now find yourselves far from home - without proper identification or even a change of clothes. So today I'm announcing two important steps that we are taking to provide you the help you need, steps that will cut through the red tape so that we get that help into your hands as quickly and easily as possible," Bush said.

The President has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to work with the Red Cross and large shelters like the Houston Astrodome to get the funds into citizens' hands as soon as possible. People staying with families, friends, in hotels, or at smaller shelters, can register for help benefits by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or if they have Internet access, by visiting www.fema.gov.

Some 400,000 families have already been registered, and at least 3,000 people are working "around the clock" to register "tens of thousands" more, Bush said. He recognized how inadequate that number of registrars is and said that number will be "increasing dramatically" because the federal government is training more workers for this task, he said.

"For those of you who are living in the large centers, such as the Houston Astrodome, I know that you don't have cars or transportation and cannot get yourselves to the centers to collect these funds. I also know that some of you do not have access to a savings or checking account, or ways to cash a check," the President said.

To solve that problem, FEMA is issuing debit cards to the thousands of evacuees at the Houston Astrodome as a means of delivering the promised $2,000 to each household.

By registering for the first $2,000, families are also signing up for longer-term assistance in the future.

So that victims who have received federal benefits administered by the states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana can continue to get those benefits where they are staying now, the government is granting evacuee status to everyone who lived in counties that have been declared disaster areas.

fire

Fire burning out of control in New Orleans is photographed from aboard a plane equipped with an emergency response sensor package operated by the U.S. EPA. It provides first responders with information on possible chemical releases. (Photo courtesy EPA)
"We know that many of you no longer have the legal documents or the records to prove your eligibility for the benefits you've been getting," Bush said. "We understand that. And so with this evacuee status, you will be able to register for your benefits without many of the traditional administrative requirements for verification and enrollment."

The special evacuee status applies to the full range of federal benefits administered by the states - Medicaid; temporary assistance for needy families; child care; mental health services and substance abuse treatment; food stamps; housing; foster care; women, infants and children nutrition; school lunch; unemployment compensation; and job training.

"The states that have opened up their doors should not be penalized for coming to the aid of Americans in distress," said Bush. He promised to work with Congress to reimburse the states that are taking in evacuees.

An estimated 10,000 residents are still thought to be living out the disaster in flooded New Orleans, where corpses are still floating in the streets and fires have broken out in houses that are no longer homes and on the surface of the oily, contaminated water that is slowly receding.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered forced evacuations to empty the city. The mayor authorized law enforcement officers and the military to force the evacuation of all residents who refuse to heed orders to leave.

rescue

U.S. Coast Guardsmen rescue a New Orleans resident from his flooded home. September 8, 2005 (Photo courtesy USCG)
But the active duty military personnel in New Orleans are not going to take part in the forced evacuations, said Lieutenant General Joseph Inge deputy commander of the U.S. Northern Command, the command that is leading the Department of Defense efforts in hurricane relief.

"As we speak, there are some 18,000 active military duty forces alongside 45,000 National Guardsmen making a difference by saving lives and relieving suffering along the catastrophic Gulf coast and New Orleans," General Inge said Wednesday.

Active duty military personnel are not permitted by law to conduct law enforcement activities. "When this turns into a law enforcement issue, which we perceive forced evacuation is," said General Inge, "regular troops would not be used."

But while working in Louisiana on hurricane relief the National Guard is under the authority of the adjutant general of the state of Louisiana, so they could be used for forced evacuations, working alongside what remains of the New Orleans Police Department.

"There are some 900 policemen in New Orleans," General Inge said. "We would certainly see forcing evacuation as a first priority for them to work. If the authorities in the state of Louisiana chose to use their National Guard in a state status, that would certainly be permissible and their call."

Thousands of Coast Guard men and women from around the nation continue conducting search, rescue, response, waterway reconstitution and environmental impact assessment operations from Florida to Louisiana today with other federal, state and local agencies.

Search and rescue operations are increasingly difficult since the most visible people in distress have been rescued. Thirty-one people were rescued by boat and aircraft Wednesday, bringing the total number of people rescued by the Coast Guard since operations began August 29 to more than 23,909.

FEMA puts the number of lives saved as the result of all rescues performed at 47,300. Officials still do not have a figure for the number of people who lost their lives to the storm and its aftermath. Mayor Nagin has guessed at a number near 10,000.

Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Rebecca Watson told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday that 90 percent of offshore oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico could be back on the market "in one month if refineries, processing plants, pipelines and other onshore infrastructure are in operation to receive, prepare and transport it to the consumer."

Of the roughly 4,000 Outer Continental Shelf production facilities in the Gulf, 37 shallow water platforms were destroyed; they produced about one percent of total Gulf production.

oil spill

Aerial view of Murphy oil spill, Chalmette, Louisiana. (Photo courtesy EPA)
"Four large deep water platforms accounting for about 10 percent of the pre-storm federal offshore Gulf oil production suffered extensive damage which could take up to three to six months to bring back on line," said Watson. Some pipelines suffered damage that could take months to repair, while others have been inspected, tested, and have already begun operations.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Treasury Secretary John Snow, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart will travel to Texas, Louisiana and Alabama on Friday to assess the near-term and long-term economic needs of the Gulf Coast region, and discuss assistance available to individuals and small businesses in the region.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced today that more than $170 million in emergency assistance is available to agricultural producers suffering from Hurricane Katrina.

The billions of dollars of damage to metropolitan areas, but people in remote, poor communities such as North Gulfport and Turkey Creek, Mississippi also lost everything as flooding from the storm water reached the rafters of homes, while winds ripped away hundreds of rooftops, residents said Thursday.

The elderly that stayed behind were rescued by neighbors using makeshift boats and floatation devices.

debris

U.S. Army Spc. James Meidl, a heavy equipment operator from the 890th Engineering Battalion, Mississippi Army National Guard, clears debris left by Hurricane Katrina on roads in Pass Christian, Mississippi. September 7, 2005. (Photo by Master Sgt. James Bowman courtesy U.S. Army)
Since relief efforts have concentrated in the metropolitan areas of Gulfport and New Orleans, survivors in the remote areas of North Gulfport and Turkey Creek have not received adequate resources and are still in dire need of medicines and supplies to subsist and rebuild.

North Gulfport and Turkey Creek residents are committed to rebuilding their communities and need help now. If you have questions and/or would like to help, please contact Rose Johnson, Chair of the North Gulfport Community Land Trust, at 228-863-3677, Derrick Evans, Executive Director of the Turkey Creek Community Initiative at 617-688-0846, or Trisha Miller, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The Lawyers' Committee is a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights legal organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to provide legal services to address racial discrimination.

Multi-million dollar donations continue to pour in to assist the hurricane's victims. The newly-formed Muslim Hurricane Relief Task Force (MHRTF) Thursday announced the launch of a website, http://www.mhrtf.net, designed to offer information about the American Islamic community's efforts to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. MHRTF recently announced a pledge to raise $10 million in humanitarian relief.

With some 90 countries and nongovernmental bodies around the world committed to helping restore the U.S. Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the top three donors are Middle East oil producers, according to the U.S. State Department. Kuwait has offered $400 million in oil products plus $100 million in cash, while the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have committed $100 million each.

Korea, with its pledge of $30 million in cash and the dispatch of a rescue team, is the fourth largest donor to America's relief and recovery efforts.