Hurricane Irene’s devastation
Though the scope of the damage was devastating, lessons learned from the past were able to mitigate major loss of human life. This time the administration was prepared.
Despite the devastating impact of Hurricane Irene last weekend, as it moved along the Eastern seaboard smashing everything in its path – shutting down major transportation arteries, disrupting the power grid through parts of much of the same area, and literally wreaking havoc as in shock and awe – President Barack Obama personally directed the federal government’s response from a disaster command center in Washington. He had returned a night early from his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to coordinate federal and local relief efforts, and received updates from governors as the storm moved up the coast. According to many observers, and some critics, a barrage of photos showing the President undertaking this role appeared to contrast sharply with George W. Bush (who was also on vacation at his ranch) being absent as Hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans in 2005.
President Obama says that it will take time to recover from Hurricane Irene and he pledged the federal government would be doing everything in its power to ensure people have what they need to get back on their feet. In a press conference in the Rose Garden, he said, “This is not over; the impacts of this storm will be felt for some time. And the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer.” But all indications are that he is in direct control of the recovery effort. “We’re going to make sure folks have all the support they need as they begin to assess and repair the damage left by the storm,” he concluded.
Many community leaders and organizations also followed the President’s lead and reached out to those in distress, to lend a helping hand. Marc H. Morial issued the following statement: “The thoughts and prayers of the Urban League community are with all those who lost loved ones to Hurricane Irene.” At least 31 deaths were caused by the storm and more than 5 million homes were left without electricity – many of them still waiting for power. Property damage estimates range from $10 billion to $20 billion.
Morial went on to add: “There is work to be done. With 14 million Americans unemployed, and thousands of buildings, bridges, and roads needing repair, the nation has a rare chance to turn tragedy into opportunity. We, at the National Urban League have urged Congress and President Obama to develop a comprehensive jobs plan that includes direct job creation. The urgent need to rebuild after Irene is the perfect opportunity to create those jobs. As federal, state and local officials begin to assess their communities in Irene’s wake, they should keep in mind the millions who are ready and willing to get to work.”
Furthermore, the President has dispatched administration officials to Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia to survey ongoing recovery and response efforts on the ground following the devastation, and to meet with local officials. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack were sent to North Carolina and Virginia; while Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate went to Vermont and his deputy, to Hartford, Connecticut.
Speaking on the massive disruption of services to millions, Fugate added, “Our goal is to keep this disruption as short as possible.”