Cochran, Bryant discuss storm recovery with coast leaders

Senator Thad Cochran and Governor Phil Bryant met Thursday with leaders from Harrison and Hancock counties to discuss storm recovery from Hurricane Isaac.
Senator Thad Cochran and Governor Phil Bryant met Thursday with leaders from Harrison and Hancock counties to discuss storm recovery from Hurricane Isaac.

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Federal buy outs of flood-prone properties and concerns about FEMA reimbursement dollars. Those were among the hurricane recovery issues discussed Thursday at a meeting hosted by Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran.

The senator, along with Governor Phil Bryant, met with local leaders from Harrison and Hancock counties. About 20 mayors and county leaders attended the half hour meeting at Gulfport City Hall.

Senator Cochran has been traveling across South Mississippi touring storm damaged neighborhoods and asking what can the federal government do to hasten recovery?

"We're here together to make sure we're not leaving anybody out or leaving any stones unturned to provide the kind of relief we need to recover," Sen. Cochran told the group.

Mississippi's senior senator may not have all the storm-recovery answers, but he has some powerful connections in Washington to help restore his state.

"I can tell you, I've seen some remarkable determination of people down here. We're moving pretty rapidly from our response phase to our recovery phase," said Governor Phil Bryant.

The senator and governor answered specific questions about FEMA and MEMA assistance that's already in the pipeline.

Gulfport's mayor suggested more federal "buy out" programs of flood prone areas might be a worthwhile investment to prevent the same homes from going underwater.

"And the next time it rains, it's going to be the same thing. Over and over and over. And we keep throwing a lot of money, a lot of money into those places where folks just don't need to be living," said Mayor George Schloegel.

Places like 44th Avenue in Gulfport, where Isaac dumped four feet of water into Sylvia Norman's home.

"We've been having this problem over and over again. And nothing has been done," said Norman.

All of her neighbors lost carpeting, furniture and other belongings that got soaked.  Would she consider a federal buyout?

"Depends on how much money they're offering," she said.

That concern was also discussed at the meeting of leaders. The government must pay a "fair" price to make such a program cost-effective, but flooded neighbors need enough to make it worthwhile for them.

"Well, I'm like Miss Sylvia. It's according to how much they offer. Because we're invested in this neighborhood," said Carla Young, who lives across the street from Sylvia Norman, and whose home also flooded in Isaac.

Another issue raised by Mayor Schloegel was relief funding from Hurricane Katrina. Believe it or not, seven years after that storm there are still projects that remain "unresolved" when it comes to FEMA funding. The mayor wanted to make sure those outstanding "Katrina dollars" don't get lost in the shadow of Hurricane Isaac relief.

Senator Cochran also heard concerns from the local leaders that FEMA needs to extend the deadline for reporting damages from the storm, since many homes were still flooded until recently and it's tough for communities to get a hard count.

The senator received assurances from FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate that the deadline issue will be given attention and cities will have the time needed to do an accurate assessment of storm damages.

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