Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - September 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Chertoff to Brady: ‘We just need to hit our stride’
Polk County Enterprise - September 2008
LIVINGSTON — Rep. Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands) visited the Polk County Emergency Operations Center Tuesday to meet with County Judge John Thompson, head of the 12-county Multi Agency Coordination Center. “We know we’ve had one disaster. We have another impending disaster that could rival what’s already happened if we don’t have food and water,” Thompson told Brady. Thompson said in addition to the Polk County devastation, there’s Tyler, Jasper and Newton counties that have serious problems. “I’d like to be assured that we’re getting our pro rata share of the supplies out there,” Thompson said. On the second day following Hurricane Ike the Regional Staging Area in Lufkin had five loads of FEMA supplies for the 12-county area. “No one is getting what they need,” Thompson said. The judge said his biggest concern is gas. “The City of Livingston needs fuel to continue public works operations,” Thompson said. The State Operations Center (SOC) fuel desk is working hard, but I don’t know if there’s fuel to distribute. It’s not at the Lufkin RSA. It’s hard from here to know where the greatest need is, Thompson added. Brady said he had toured Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula Tuesday and they are struggling with a total blackout of both power and communications.
“Even the Emergency Operations Center cannot communicate with the SOC or the people who rode out the storm there,” Brady said. Brady began a statement “If you don’t have power, food …” and the lights in the MACC went dark for a couple of seconds and power returned. The two-second outage prompted Larry Shine, director of relief efforts by the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas to say, “Wow, I thought I had the connection.” Drawing a laugh from the MACC staff. “Can I take credit for that?” Brady asked. Polk County Maintenance Engineer Jay Burks entered the room and explained the power glitch was the EOC transferring from generator power to normal power. Brady then restated his thought that Polk County residents who are lacking food, water, electricity and gasoline, are suffering and the supplies situation has to be resolved.
The gasoline situation improved during Tuesday night, so the fuel situation was brighter Wednesday, Thompson said. “Supplies are day-to-day,” Thompson said. In a conference call with the Texas Congressional Delegation, Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff told Brady, “We (FEMA) just need to hit its stride.” “Have we hit the supplies so hard and so fast that they just aren’t there?” Shine asked Brady. Brady said Chertoff didn’t indicate that the problem was no supplies. “If it’s not a supply problem, then we have a real big problem,” Thompson said. Brady told the MACC staff that with FEMA handling direct distribution in Harris County, the chain of command for requests has been broken. “Several requests are going different directions,” Brady said. “If there’s other folks hurting as bad as us, that’s fine,” Thompson said. “But if there’s food stacked up it needs to be shared. Hopefully hindsight will show it was handled fairly.”
“Power is starting to trickle on. At this point there should be supplies in hard-hit areas,” Brady said. Brady reported that he had spoken with FEMA’s state director and she said “we’ve blown through more than was anticipated.” “I’m not getting answers I’m satisfied with,” Brady said. Thompson answered, “There can only be two reasons: They can’t get it, or they didn’t plan adequately.” FEMA agreed to fix a glitch in the process for residents in the hurricane zone to apply for benefits. Several people were denied because they had not been able to return home and see the condition of their home. “Answering ‘I don’t know’ was triggering a denial, but they agreed to correct that,” Brady said. “We have several times more damage than in Hurricane Rita,” Thompson said. “The lady that’s working out at the front desk in the EOC, her house is uninhabitable but she’s here working to get the community back on its feet.” One of the people manning the MACC was a federal disaster planner who was identified only as Roy. He said Polk County has the only MACC standing during Ike, and was the only one operating during Gustav. Judge Thompson showed Brady a map of the MACC region and POD locations.
Polk County established three big PODs in Livingston, Corrigan and Onaslaska. Smaller PODs were established at Goodrich City Hall, Indian Springs Community Center, Scenic Loop VFD, Alabama- Coushatta Reservation, Big Sandy High School, Segno VFD, South Polk County VFD and Holiday Lake Estates VFD. Thompson told Brady that the City of Livingston was down to a two-day supply of diesel. As MACC staff worked to track down fuel, they found the request didn’t make the transition from the division to the state fuel desk. At about 9 p.m. Tuesday Livingston Police Officer Marty Drake told fellow officers he was escorting a petroleum tanker truck to the Watson Building for the Public Works Department, and alleviating that crisis for now. “The local and state planning has been better than Rita,” Thompson said. “But there’s still a breakdown in the system.” Brady said the damage varies throughout the 12-county regions. Orange residents are flooded and Polk County had devastating wind damage. “If we can get a steady supply of commodities it will be OK,” Brady said.
“Right now, no one is getting that.” Brady said President George W. Bush announced the federal government will cover evacuation expenses for 30 days ant 14 days for debris removal, once local officials “trigger” the contract. Brady said he will continue to push FEMA step up delivery of commodities. One of the 12 DETCOG counties, Shelby County, had been left out of early disaster declarations and that had been corrected by Tuesday, Brady said. Brady asked about the medically fragile residents of Polk County. Only a few residents with special medical needs were evacuated, Thompson said. The only mandatory evacuation order issued applied to those who live in mobile homes, travel trailers and floodprone areas. Brady said Ike’s wind speeds in Polk County ranged from 94 to 104 miles per house, according to reports he read. Traffic conditions in Polk County were far better than in Hurricane Rita, Thompson said.
Improved traffic and the cool, dry weather have been tremendous blessings in the early days of recovery, Thompson said. During a pre-storm conference call that included the Texas Congressional Delegation and FEMA officials, Brady said Houston Mayor Bill White interrupted to ask Thompson if the traffic light in Corrigan had been locked on green. Thompson answered that Corrigan city officials had already turned on the green light and posted numerous signs along U.S. 59 stating, “Next food, water, gas and lodging 25 miles ahead.” They didn’t have to be asked, Thompson said. Although this was a much “smarter” evacuation according to Brady, many residents had evacuated once for Gustav and just could not afford a second evacuation ahead of Ike.
Brady sited refinery workers in the Houston, Pasadena and Beaumont areas as an example. With fuel prices so high they just didn’t have the money, Brady said. Thompson also told Brady there are several generators on concrete pads in the DETCOG area that were purchased with FEMA funds after Rita, but they had not been hooked up. Many of the manufacturers of extremely large generators to power shelters, and fuel delivery required a factory representative to be onsite during installation or the warranty would be voided. The waiting list for those reps has been so long that several were sitting idle as Hurricane Ike roared through East Texas.