Thank you Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Jeffords for having this very important hearing on the Stafford Act and how this legislation could be improved to be better prepared to respond for future disasters.
Almost 11 months ago, Louisiana and the other Gulf States experienced the most destructive natural disaster in our nation’s history when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. In Louisiana, tragically, Hurricane Katrina left over 1100 people dead with more still missing. Hurricane Katrina represents one of the first times in history where a major metropolitan area was evacuated and its economic activity virtually ceased. Thousands of American families lost their homes, their jobs, their communities, and sadly too many lost their lives or loved ones. We must make sure this devastation absolutely never happens again.
The Stafford Act provides the foundation for recovery and response. I look forward to hearing today about any ideas and suggestions for improving the Stafford Act including topics such as debris removal and other emergency work that are very important to Louisiana’s recovery. Since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisianans have had the challenge of rebuilding their homes and getting their lives back together.
One of the greatest challenges Louisianans faces in a post-Katrina world is the removal of debris which is a monumental task in itself. There is an unprecedented amount of debris after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We have made much progress in cleaning up the debris and have already hauled away 25 times more than the debris in New York after September 11, but we still have a long way to go.
Debris removal is critical to ensuring that Louisiana parishes and cities can continue vital rebuilding and recovery work. Recently, the President extended 100% Federal reimbursement of debris removal in 5 parishes through the end of the year, which is so important to Louisiana’s recovery efforts. With the amount of debris left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this extension will help these parishes move forward as they continue to clean up and rebuild.
Coordination between agencies involved and with the state and local government is crucial to bringing results that will ensure the clean-up of debris is done effectively, safely and timely in order for Louisianans to progress with their recovery efforts. We have a lot to learn from Hurricane Katrina and need to do all we can to be better prepared for future storms. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses and thank you for all you have done to help the Gulf Coast recover.