Former FEMA director says Harvey damage could cost more than Katrina to fix

Former FEMA Director assesses Harvey damage

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Much of the Texas and Louisiana coastlines are underwater as the once hurricane, now Tropical Storm Harvey makes it way back over the gulf coast.

FEMA and other emergency responders are racing against the clock to evacuate those that are trapped, while also caring for those in shelters.

Arkansas's own James Lee Witt knows how to weather a storm.

The Former FEMA Director weathered 350 disasters during his tenure in the White House. He said Houston will find light at the end of the Harvey tunnel, but it will be a long and hard journey to get there.

Rita, Katrina, Ike. These three hurricanes devastated the Gulf Coast. After each, change was promised, but was essentially much of the same.

"We cannot continue to go through this damage, repair, damage, repair cycle," Witt said. "We have to start building better and smarter. Until we do that, we are going to continue to have these situations.”

Twelve years ago, Katrina hit the southern coast of America and changed the lives of millions of people. Documentaries, dissertations, and presentations were given on the lessons learned from the ensuing disaster.

But in the future, how can we prevent this from happening again?

Witt explained that because of climate change, coastal erosion will become a major problem for many cities across the United States.

"We are going to have to address this," Witt said, "because we are going to have a rise in the ocean and a lot of these areas are going to be inundated with sea water over the next how many years it takes."

Witt said that the damage cause during Harvey could very well cost the country more than Katrina cost us.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long said he expects FEMA will be there for years to come. Witt echoed that and said he fully expects that to be the case.

"When Katrina hit, Governor Blanco asked me if I'd come down and help them with the recovery efforts. So we did and we were there for ten years doing the recovery efforts, the projects, the project work orders, helping to get the funding for those projects. Governor Christie hired me during Hurricane Sandy. [They] are still in New Jersey working on Sandy," Witt said.

Witt offered two solutions to the problems arising.

He said that people in floodplains should consider moving and the government should create a relocation assistance program for those willing to move voluntarily.

His other suggestion is that President Donald Trump and Congress work together to pass an infrastructure bill to overhaul how FEMA responds and helps in disaster situations.

Witt thinks Trump has done a good job so far, answering the calls for federal reinforcements in Texas and Louisiana. The president has talked a lot about the need for new infrastructure but Witt said the time is now.

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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