Texas Gov. Rick Perry has sent a letter to federal officials requesting that Texas get the same level of reimbursement for Hurricane Rita as for Hurricane Katrina.
Perry also joined with Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels in announcing the formation of a task force to examine better ways to handle the evacuation of major metropolitan areas of Texas.
“With indications that federal reimbursement will be less for Hurricane Rita, I want to re-emphasize the state’s position that it makes sense to provide the same level of federal support for a storm that did much more extensive damage to Texas than the previous one,” Perry said. “I have asked federal officials to designate these two catastrophic weather events as one natural disaster for administrative and funding purposes.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notified Texas that it would approve 100 percent reimbursement of some costs for a 72-hour period related to Hurricane Rita but then would drop to 75 percent reimbursement. FEMA has approved 100 percent reimbursement to Texas on costs associated with assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Perry noted that the shelter Texas provided for the evacuees of Hurricane Katrina affected every aspect of the Texas preparation, response and recovery for Hurricane Rita, which makes the argument for considering these consecutive hurricanes one tragedy.
Perry also announced that he will be appointing a task force to immediately begin examining the process by which Texas evacuates major metropolitan areas in Texas.
“Because local officials gave evacuation notice early, despite the agonizing traffic that ensued, we got millions of people out of harm’s way in time,” Perry said. “But by no means did the plan work flawlessly. The purpose of this task force will be to learn from our most recent experience, and to better prepare for the future recognizing another hurricane or tropical storm could threaten Texas in the remaining two months of the hurricane season.”
Perry said that this process will also better educate the public on the tremendous amount of effort that is required to evacuate a major metropolitan area. For instance, the order to contra-flow major interstate lanes was issued around 6 a.m. Thursday and contra-flow began from the point furthest inland working backwards. That meant putting troopers at every entrance ramp as far north as Ellis County, and working back towards the Houston area. It also meant creating openings to switch traffic over to the other side of the highway – a process complicated by the nature of the medians in certain areas.
“Every challenge that comes with evacuating a major Texas city will be examined in detail so we can improve our evacuation effort the next time it may be needed,” Perry said.