For the next few days, federal help to Katrina-ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast will be a matter of life and death.
According to a Knight Ridder report, it’s a “golden 72 hours” with the clock ticking for dramatic rescues of people stuck in high water or trapped in rubble.
After that, a long rebuilding process, including supplying an estimated 40,000 travel trailers and other temporary housing to the homeless, begins in earnest.
The reconstruction after Katrina likely will be the biggest recovery program in U.S. history, dwarfing 1992’s Hurricane Andrew and 2001’s terror attacks, veteran emergency managers said.
“What’s critical right now is the depth of water,” said Eric Tolbert, former chief of disaster response for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Re-entry (to some areas) may not even begin for weeks or months.”
That will make housing a big problem.
After last year’s quadruple hurricane strike, FEMA purchased travel trailers from RV manufacturers and dealers to help house displaced victims. The agency estimates that it has about 18,000 trailers that could be used as temporary homes, but as many as 40,000 will probably be needed because of the size, location and scope of Katrina’s strike, Tolbert said.
“You’ve got displaced people. What about all those people in the Superdome?” Myers asked. “It’s like going to a ballgame for a month, because where are you going to go? Their homes are underwater.”
Too much water and too few places to live will be urgent problems facing the first rescuers.
“It’s going to be bad,” said Tolbert. “I have to believe this one (recovery operation) will be larger than Andrew. We’re talking about a very intense three- to five-year recovery operation.”
By early this morning (Aug. 30), New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast were still too flooded to make an assessment. It was too dangerous for federal and state officials to fly an airplane to get even a cursory idea of the damage, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said in a news conference in Baton Rouge.
President Bush, at an RV resort and country club in Arizona, said: “I want the folks there on the Gulf Coast to know that the federal government is prepared to help you when the storm passes.”
The federal government is mobilizing thousands of truckloads of recovery supplies: ice, water, food, temporary shelters and generators. Thirty-eight search-and-rescue and medical teams were waiting for the storm to subside so they could enter the damage areas, according to FEMA.
In addition, the American Red Cross said it launched its “largest mobilization effort in history” for Katrina.