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HomeOpinionColumnHow many more must suffer before FEMA gets it right the first...

How many more must suffer before FEMA gets it right the first time?

By: Keith Kappes
Columnist
Carter County Times

We knew what was going to happen when the rain started falling and the wind started blowing and the creek kept on rising, didn’t we?

Those who have endured and survived flooding in East Kentucky learned long ago that the bureaucrats in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would have to have their butts kicked by local, state, and federal politicians before anything close to adequate assistance would be forthcoming.

The Great Flood of July 2022 was no exception to this sad history of empty promises and broken dreams, both in the continental U. S. and in places like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, whose residents are American citizens and, by law, are entitled to FEMA’s help.

Hurricane Maria in 2017 almost destroyed Puerto Rico and the loss of electrical power was a primary culprit. FEMA had only 31 portable generators in that country when the electrical grid collapsed. Eventually, more than 2,000 were deployed to hospitals, shelters, schools, community centers and the like.

And how will we ever forget the TV coverage of literally millions of plastic bottles filled with drinking water that disintegrated while sitting in the blazing sun on an old, abandoned airfield. FEMA claimed it had lost track of that critically needed commodity.

My indelible FEMA horror story is Hurricane Katrina which ravaged New Orleans and most of the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 persons and causing $125 billion in property damage in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in 2005.

That unmitigated disaster would have been even worse if President George W. Bush had not fired the top FEMA official and sent in a hardnosed Army general to run the operation. The Army Corps of Engineers also bears some of the Katrina blame because its heralded flood control system collapsed totally and flooded previously safe areas.

FEMA’s history reminds me of that old yarn about Christopher Columbus being the perfect bureaucrat. When he left Spain to discover America, he didn’t know where he was going. When he got home, he didn’t know where he had been, and he did it all on someone else’s money.

Keith Kappes can be reached at keithkappes@gmail.com.

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