BILOXI, MS (WLOX) – Emerging from a meeting with South Mississippi mayors and a Harrison County supervisor Friday morning, BP's incoming CEO Bob Dudley introduced a familiar face when it comes to crisis management and disasters.
"You all will know him from his time working on the disasters after Katrina. The standards he set. For example, in the state of Louisiana, the restoration work his team still does there," said Dudley. "And I've asked him to work with us to set up teams, not only here in Mississippi, but across the coast."
Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt and his consulting firm will work on a long-term program to help Gulf Coast communities recover from the massive oil spill.
"I've seen the anguish and the pain that people have suffered after disaster events. I've seen the frustration," said Witt. "I have seen communities come back stronger and better than ever before, and I know that's what Bob is trying to do here. And we're going to be at their side and at your side to make this work."
Part of that plan involves working closely with local and state leaders.
"Talk to them about what the issues are. Talk to them about any of the claims that they have. Making sure the documentations are right with those claims and they could get funded much faster and easier," said Witt. "We'll be working with the local communities, addressing the long term recovery issues that may be there and then work with the state to come up with a Gulf Coast long term recovery plan. But it's by community by community, state by state."
Dudley called the oil spill a catastrophe and even though clean-up efforts have scaled back, he said BP's commitment to restore the Gulf Coast remains as strong as ever.
"Those of you here in Mississippi, we look forward to connecting deeper to learn what it is that we can do to help your towns and cities and just across the beaches get back completely on their feet," said Dudley. "We've had some good news off shore, you'll know that. But that doesn't mean we're done. We'll be here for years."
Witt headed FEMA between 1993 and 2001, during the Clinton administration. He has visited south Mississippi before, including in 1998, when he toured the destruction left behind by Hurricane Georges.
Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo says Witt's knowledge of the region, experience, and leadership will help south Mississippi deal with the oil disaster. Longo was among the local leaders who met with Witt and Dudley Friday morning. One of the concerns he raised was making sure protective measures and clean-up crews remain in place for a long time.
"The prevailing feeling that you begin to get since the well has been capped on the sea bottom is OK, it's over with. Now let's pack up our stuff and go home. Our concern is that they understand that that's not the case. We don't feel that way. We feel there's still a lot of oil that's out in the Gulf somewhere," said Mayor Longo.
He also said tar balls continue to wash ashore in Waveland, and the beaches and marshes could be at greater risk of getting oil during strong winds and tropical storms.