Napolitano says she can break through FEMA bottleneck

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - President Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security says south Mississippi's hurricane recovery appears to be on a much faster track than rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. Janet Napolitano spent Friday afternoon in Gulfport. It was her first chance to see what's been rebuilt, and what still needs to be done to put Hurricane Katrina in our rear view mirrors.

The Secretary of Homeland Security flew over hurricane damaged neighborhoods, and she had lunch with local leaders. They all need FEMA's help to break through the recovery bottleneck that's hampering several rebuilding projects. And Napolitano says she can provide that assistance.

"You still see areas where there are lots of slabs, trees down, debris in trees," Napolitano noted. "So there's still work to be done."

Napolitano took a helicopter tour of south Mississippi. It was her first glimpse of Hurricane Katrina's wrath, and south Mississippi's rebuilding efforts.

"The amount of reconstruction and recovery that's already occurred is very impressive," she said.

After her Coast Guard chopper landed, the new Secretary of Homeland Security said FEMA was still committed to south Mississippi's recovery.

"The number one thing we can do is make sure what is completed in terms of if there are projects being held up in Washington D.C. or whatever, that we can break through that bottleneck," she said.

Governor Haley Barbour joined Secretary Napolitano on the one hour tour of the coast. They saw storm scars and success stories along city streets that were swarmed over by the astonishing strength of Katrina's surge.

"Some people say, 'Oh my God, look at all that hadn't been done,'" the governor pointed out. "But she looked and said, 'You've got so much that has been done, so much has been rebuilt over such a gigantic area.'"

FEMA allocated $1.2 billion to Mississippi to help with its recovery issues. That's why the new homeland security director scheduled the flyover, to see how those assets were being spent.  She also wanted to hear how FEMA could improve its recovery assistance in the future.

"Since I've been a governor myself, I've been on the other end of FEMA in some respects," Napolitano explained. "So, I think we'll be able to work very pragmatically through some of the remaining issues."

After meeting with her in Washington, and then on the helicopter, Governor Barbour sounded confident that Secretary Napolitano would keep Mississippi's recovery issues on the front burner.

"She's got a bias for action, and I appreciate that and look forward to working with her. I think she's got a great attitude," Barbour said.

The FEMA recovery money is different than the $1.6 million in CDBG money Mississippi received.  Governor Barbour reiterated on Friday what he said to the Gulf Coast Business Council on Wednesday.

He wants coastal counties to use the block grant money by September 1. Otherwise, he fears Mississippi may lose some of the grant money. Barbour believes that turning CDBG money into new home developments will create 18,000 jobs for the state.

"We need that money all to be deployed this year, because it's jobs, as well as returning to the right quality of life," he said.  "But, I feel very good about her attitude.

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