- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials say they are dealing proactively with the Midwest flooding because of lessons learned from failures during Hurricane Katrina, as President Bush promised quick relief to the thousands affected.

“A lot of people are going to be wondering, is there short-term help for housing? And there is, and we’ll provide that help,” said Mr. Bush, who was briefed Tuesday morning after returning to Washington from Europe Monday night.

Almost 40,000 people have been displaced in Iowa and a few other states by two weeks of flooding. At least five people have been killed by the severe weather.

The danger of further flooding remains as the Mississippi River is expected to crest Wednesday at possibly its highest level ever.

On Tuesday, the river rose so high that it rendered two bridges between Iowa and Illinois impassable and overcame a levee topped with sandbags in Gulfport, Ill., flooding thousands of acres of farmland.

Rising water is expected to threaten 27 other levees Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. Millions of sandags have been stacked around the structures.

“This is going to be the great flood, probably, in many locations,” said Ron Fournier, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

FEMA positioned supplies and personnel north of St. Louis, even though the city is south of the most severe flooding and has not yet had any problems, said Robert Powers, FEMA’s deputy assistant administrator for disaster operations.

“There’s going to be more flooding. We expect the additional flooding to be minor, but until the water crest passes St. Louis, where the river can hold the volume better than now, we’re going to see flooding in low-lying areas,” Mr. Powers said in a phone interview.

Mr. Powers said that FEMA’s planning in St. Louis is indicative of the change in the agency’s response after failing to deal effectively with Katrina in 2005.

“We’re no longer waiting for the call. We can see from the weather forecasts and the news reports that there is an eminent major event,” Mr. Powers said. “We’ve been working 24 hours a day and are putting into play the power of the federal government.”

Mr. Bush, who will tour flood damage Thursday, promised that the federal government would oversee a task force dedicated to the problem of long-term housing, in addition to providing short-term fixes.

“I fully understand people are upset when they lose their home. A person’s home is their most valued possession,” Mr. Bush said after being briefed by FEMA administrator R. David Paulison at the White House.

FEMA recently released a housing plan intended to help states provide interim housing up to 18 months for persons whose homes need to be rebuilt or require serious repairs.

Mr. Bush, who is nearing the end of his eight years in office, lamented the occurrence of another natural disaster on his watch.

“I, unfortunately, have been to too many disasters as president,” he said. “But one thing I’ve always learned is that the American citizen can overcome these disasters. And life, while it may seem dim at this point in time, can always be better because of the resiliency and care of our citizens.”

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