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Recap: Secretary Napolitano Visit to Joplin


Secretary Napolitano visited Joplin, Mo. yesterday, meeting with disaster survivors and touring the St. John’s medical facility that was severely damaged during the May 22 tornado. The entire emergency management team – federal, state, local governments; the private sector; voluntary, community, and faith-based groups; and especially the public – continue to support the recovery efforts in Joplin, as well as the other areas hit by severe storms, tornadoes and flooding this spring.

For some more perspective on Secretary Napolitano’s visit, check out these stories from the Joplin Globe, Associated Press, and CNN. And as she said during her visit,

We will not leave until the job is finished...and we will continue to support our team of federal, state, local and community partners that are working tirelessly to help the people of Missouri rebuild their communities.

Dept. of Transportation: FHWA releases Emergency Relief Funds

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Editor's Note: This was originally posted on June 9, 2011 on Fast Lane, the official blog of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.  The photos are from the FEMA photo library.

The storms that hit Alabama on April 27 swept across the northern portion of the state in 42 counties, with tornadoes cutting huge paths as much as a mile wide.

Tuesday, I toured the devastation in Alabama with U.S. Representatives Spencer Bachus and Terri Sewell, Birmingham Mayor William Bell, Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper, and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez.

I must say, it’s simply heartbreaking, and our prayers go out to the families affected.

Damaged area in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 1, 2011 - A damaged area in Tuscaloosa.

We at DOT salute the tireless first responders, the dedicated clean-up crews, and the selfless volunteers who have brought hope and compassion to people who need it so badly.

In addition to the loss of life and destruction of houses, natural disasters can cause tremendous damage to roads and bridges, leaving a huge financial burden on the states affected. That's why the Federal Highway Administration's emergency relief program provides critical funds to repair or rebuild roads and bridges damaged by natural disasters or catastrophic events.

After touring the damage in Alabama, I announced that, as part of the Obama Administration's disaster response, DOT is making available $1.5 million in quick release emergency funds to begin the considerable job of restoring roads and bridges across the state.

This money, which is a part of the Administration’s all-hands-on-deck response to this tragedy, will reimburse the state for early and crucial repairs made following the storms, including debris removal, sign replacement and traffic signal repairs.

Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration is a crucial part of the administration's relief effort. So, if you have been affected by these storms and haven’t yet signed up for financial assistance from FEMA, we encourage you to do so at www.disasterassistance.gov. It’s not too late.

As President Obama said, "Our biggest priority now is to help this community recover, and we are going to do everything we can to help Alabama's communities rebuild."

This administration is committed to helping Alabama residents recover from this tragedy, and here at DOT, we will continue to do all we can to support that effort.

Alabama: To some it’s debris - to others, a source of hidden treasures

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A homeowner does a final cleanup of his yard before the debris is removed. Operation Clean Sweep is helping residents rid their property of the storm debris.
Pratt City, Ala., June 1, 2011 -- A homeowner does a final cleanup of his yard before the debris is removed. Operation Clean Sweep is helping residents rid their property of the storm debris.

Sometimes debris is just debris. But in a disaster it can be a much-needed glimpse of humanity. My first experience with this was after September 11, 2001, where I was a deputy federal coordinating officer at Ground Zero. Facing an unbelievable amount of destruction and loss amongst the twisted steel and collapsed chaos of dust and debris, I would occasionally spot a piece of a desk, a handwritten note or crumpled photograph and find relief in these signs of life.

For the last few weeks, survivors of Alabama’s onslaught of tornadoes have been in the process of putting their lives back together. Cleaning up after something like this is never easy, but we try to retrieve fragments of the past when we can, like pieces to a puzzle, one memory at a time.

FEMA and the State of Alabama are helping residents clear the enormous piles of debris the April 27 tornadoes left behind. The program, called Operation Clean Sweep, provides funding to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or to the state and local government to hire a private contractor to remove the rubble on private property in the highest impact areas once the owners sign a “right-of-entry” form.

Operation Clean Sweep is underway in designated Alabama communities to clear debris from areas of catastropic damage. FEMA assigned the task to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Tuscaloosa, AL, June 1, 2011 -- Operation Clean Sweep is underway in designated Alabama communities to clear debris from areas of catastropic damage. FEMA assigned the task to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (© C.J. Hamilton, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

At the governor’s request, FEMA has increased its share of the debris removal cost to 90 percent, with the non-federal share at 10 percent. The deadline for the program has also been extended, now ending July 12. And if residents follow guidelines for debris separation, it allows some construction material to be salvaged for reuse or recycling. Recycling ultimately helps to free up landfills and save taxpayer dollars.

Many people who have reached out to help the survivors have started their own type of recycling by setting up websites and drop-off points for priceless mementos – things like first-year baby photos, sports memorabilia and handcrafted Mother’s Day cards. Amazingly, the tornado winds blew personal keepsakes clear across state lines. On one Facebook page a couple was thrilled to be reunited with their wedding photo showing them filling a vase in the sand as part of their ceremony on a beach. They were also able to salvage that glass vase beneath the rubble of their house, “untouched.”

Wedding photo of couple at the beach.
Holt, AL, June 1, 2011 -- A couple finds their wedding picture amongst tornado debris. Many Alabamians across the state are recovering from storms and tornadoes that struck in April 2011. (© Published with permission of Kelli Griffin Hallman)

In another story, Jeff and Paula Baccus of Hackleburg, Ala. say they were lucky in that some of their family treasures were not destroyed, although about 50 massive trees fell on their home. Jeff hid in the hallway with the family’s two dogs as the deafening sound of the wind twisted tree trunks. Paula hugged her 16-year-old son in a neighbor’s basement as the roof blew off and the walls collapsed. As with many survivors, they feel blessed to be alive.

The cleanup process has been a team effort for the Baccus family. A few days after the tornado hit, volunteers came from all over the country to help them begin removing debris. The private sector is also engaged, as U.S. Steel donated equipment to help cut away timber from the house.

As the Baccus family and many others continue to sort through what the tornadoes left behind, I hope they can salvage a few tangible pieces of the past that will offer comfort as they move forward in their recovery.

 

Thank You: NFL Players’ Association

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Over the past couple of weeks we’ve worked with numerous partners to meet the needs of survivors of recent storms, tornados and flooding in various parts of the U.S. We wanted to take the time to offer a special “thank you” to the National Football Leagues Players’ Association for the work they have done in Joplin, Mo. following the destructive storms last month. Numerous NFL players have visited survivors of the storms and toured the damages throughout Joplin. They have also helped in getting the word out to register for assistance (like the video above).

We are committed to serving those impacted by the storms and would like to thank the entire emergency management team for their continuous hard work and dedication to the recovery efforts in Missouri. From first responders, to local/state government, to our partners in the private sector, including the NFL Players’ Association, we appreciate all that you have and will continue to do.

To read more about the NFL Players’ Associations work in the recovery of Joplin, visit:

Quick Update: Northeast U.S. Tornadoes


Our thoughts and prayers are with the families in central and western Massachusetts impacted by the tornadoes that swept through the Northeast last night. This morning, FEMA is joining the state in conducting assessments of areas of western and central Massachusetts affected by yesterday’s severe weather and tornadoes. In addition, a regional Incident Management Assistance Team is on the ground in Massachusetts to assist state response efforts, as needed.

As we mentioned last night, we continue to closely monitoring the impact of the storm through our regional office in Boston, Mass., and remain in close contact and coordination with state emergency management officials.

At the request of the respective states, FEMA has liaison officers in place in Massachusetts and Vermont, and a liaison officer has been in contact with New Hampshire emergency management officials. These officials are working with state officials and are in place to help coordinate federal support, if needed.

Check back on the blog for the latest on our role. For updates from Massachusetts, check out:

Continuing to Monitor Severe Weather in the Northeast

Updated at 10:05pm EST:

Massachusetts Resources:
www.mass.gov/mema, twitter.com/MassEMA, twitter.com/MassGovernor

Updated at 8:50pm EST:

At the request of the respective states, FEMA has liaison officers in place in Massachusetts and Vermont, and a liaison officer has been in contact with New Hampshire emergency management officials. These officials are working with state officials and are in place to help coordinate federal support, if needed.

Through our regional office in Boston, we're closely monitoring the severe weather and tornado watches and warnings as they continue throughout the Northeast. We are in close contact and coordination with our state partners and stand ready to support as they respond to the severe weather, as needed.

Here are some tips to remain safe:

  • A tornado watch means a tornado is possible in your area.
  • A tornado warning is when a tornado is actually occurring, take shelter immediately.
  • Listen to local and state officials for emergency information and instructions, and follow local news reports for the latest updates in your area.

For more tornado safety tips, visit Ready.gov/tornadoes or http://m.fema.gov/ on your smartphone. You can also visit mobile.weather.gov on your smartphone for local weather forecasts.

We will continue to update the blog as necessary, so check back for our latest updates on severe weather and tornadoes.

Photos 5: Supporting Efforts for Southern U.S. Tornadoes and Flooding

We continue to support the affected states and the entire emergency management team in the ongoing recovery, from the severe storms in the Midwest to the heavy flooding along the Mississippi River.

Throughout every step of the process, we continue to work with our partners to support those impacted by the recent disasters. Here are some of recent shots from our photo library that show the emergency management team in action:

EMA personnel work inside a Mobile Emergency Response Support vehicle.
Joplin, Mo., May 29, 2011 -- FEMA personnel work inside a Mobile Emergency Response Support vehicle, equipped with video and telephone communications equipment. FEMA is supporting the ongoing recovery efforts in Joplin, Mo., providing assistance to disaster survivors and the affected community.

Administrator Craig Fugate surveys a damaged fire station with a Joplin firefighter.
Joplin, Mo., May 26, 2011 -- Administrator Craig Fugate surveys a damaged fire station with a Joplin firefighter. Visit the disaster page for the latest updates on the Joplin recovery.

Donna Wood, a Red Cross worker talks to a resident of Denning, Ark.
Denning, Ark., May 25, 2011 -- Donna Wood, a Red Cross worker, talks to a resident of Denning, Ark., whose home, in the background, was damaged when a tornado ripped through the area.

Larry Combs, Chase Lewis and Daniel Lewis replace power lines knocked down by a tornado.
Big Rock, Tenn., May 24, 2011 - Larry Combs, Chase Lewis and Daniel Lewis replace power lines knocked down by a tornado which struck May 23. FEMA supports and helps fund replacement of public equipment and facilities.

Members of the Florida Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Association are helping a homeowner cut and pull debris.
Sipsey, Ala., May 24, 2011 -- Members of the Florida Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Association are helping a homeowner cut and pull debris to the street for county pickup. Faith-based volunteers are important partners with FEMA in helping survivors recover from the deadly April tornado.

Logistics teams at the staging area in Camp Beauregard load supplies.
Pineville, La., May 23, 2011 -- Logistics teams at the staging area in Camp Beauregard load what are known as commonly used shelter items kits now part of the commodities delivered to shelters in the event of a disaster.

James Zemlicka, Hazard Mitigation specialist, answers questions for a Lowe's customer on rebuilding safely.
Memphis, TN, May 23, 2011 -- James Zemlicka, Hazard Mitigation specialist, answers questions for a Lowe's customer on rebuilding safely. Hazard Mitigation representatives are located at Lowe's and Home Depot stores throughout western Tennessee.

avid Rodriguez, an applicant assistant specialist, interviews applicants for assistance.
Brayton, Tenn., May 17, 2011 -- David Rodriguez, an applicant assistant specialist, interviews Dorothy L.Green (right), Peggy Giunta and her son Haeden Gray. The applicant interview is an important part of the recovery process.

Shnader Bellegrade, FEMA Community Relations Specialist collaborates with Todd Hallbaur of the American Red Cross.
Vicksburg, Miss., May 18, 2011 -- Shnader Bellegrade, FEMA community relations specialist, collaborates with Todd Hallbaur of the American Red Cross regarding assistance for evacuated survivors of the floods in Vicksburg Miss.

FEMA Community Relations Specialist Steve Huffstutler explains the registration process to a homeowner
Pratt City, Ala., May 17, 2011 – Steve Huffstutler, FEMA community relations specialist, explains the registration process to a homeowner that had some damage to her house. Teams community relations staff are going door-to- door in communities to encourage people to register for assistance and answer questions about the process.

Tennessee: Update on Recovery Efforts

Over the past month and a half, the Central U.S. has experienced a host of disasters – from the historic flooding along the Mississippi River to deadly tornadoes and severe storms that claimed hundreds of lives.

I wanted to take a minute to provide an update on the ongoing recovery efforts in the Volunteer State and make sure that survivors have the information they need to register with FEMA for disaster assistance.

I’m proud to say that since President Obama made federal disaster assistance available on May 1, Tennessee has been approved for more than $9 million in federal aid. These funds have been approved for individuals to help with temporary housing, cover essential disaster-related needs or to provide low-interest loans to eligible homeowners, renters or business owners.

Through a team of federal, state, voluntary, faith- and community-based groups, we continue to get the word out that disaster assistance is available to those affected by the storms. To date, nearly 5,700 individuals have visited joint FEMA/Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Disaster Recovery Centers in affected counties.

FEMA Applicant Assistant Andres Lugo answers questions for an applicant at the Hope Shelter DRC.
Memphis, TN, May 24, 2011 -- FEMA Applicant Assistant Andres Lugo answers questions for an applicant at the Hope Shelter DRC. Disaster Recovery Centers are set up at the Shelby County Shelters so that applicants have easy access to FEMA. Marilee Caliendo/FEMA

Representatives from FEMA, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration and other agencies staff these centers to explain disaster assistance programs and help survivors apply for assistance. Check out this video as a disaster survivor goes through the various stations at a Disaster Recovery Center – even though it’s from North Carolina, the scene is very similar in Tennessee, too:



I ask that you keep those affected by the storms and flooding in Tennessee in your thoughts and prayers.  And if you or someone you know has been affected by the disaster in Tennessee, there are four easy ways to register:

Call 800-621-FEMA (3362), individuals with a speech or hearing impairment may call (TTY) 800-462-7585



 

Secretary Napolitano Visits Hackleburg, Alabama


Secretary Napolitano and Congressman Aderholt meet with volunteers at the Hackelburg volunteer coordination center.
Hackleburg, AL, May 29, 2011 -- Secretary Napolitano and Congressman Aderholt meet with volunteers at the Hackelburg volunteer coordination center.

Yesterday, as part of the Obama administration's ongoing commitment to assisting the long-term recovery efforts of communities affected by recent severe weather, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano surveyed the progress made in response and recovery efforts in the month following the storms and tornadoes that struck the Southeast region this spring.

She was joined by Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Hackleburg Mayor Douglas Gunnin, Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Art Faulkner, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Federal Coordinating Officer Mike Byrne in Hackleburg.

Secretary Napolitano remarked:

We are proud to be part of a great team of state partners, local governments, faith based groups, survivors, long-term community recovery organizations and volunteers who have worked around the clock to help with response and recovery efforts-and we will not leave until the job is finished. The Obama administration remains focused on helping Hackleburg and communities throughout Alabama continue their progress towards rebuilding and recovering to be stronger than before.

Congressman Aderholt also noted:

We are on the road to recovery and we are on it together. I'm encouraged by the relief efforts that continue on the ground, as well as the coordination between all officials and organizations involved in the recovery process. I know Alabamians strength and resiliency will see us through and Alabama will come back, better than ever.

As part of the visit, Secretary Napolitano:

  • Joined Congressman Aderholt, Mayor Gunnin, a member of the Red Cross of Central Alabama, and other Alabama officials to tour Hackleburg High School to survey damages, discuss recovery efforts, and met with the Marion County School Superintendent, Hackleburg High School Principal and students who graduated with the high school's senior class on Friday.
  • Visited the Northwest Alabama United Way Volunteer Center where she met with first responders, as well as the survivors and families who have assisted in the community's recovery efforts over the past month.
  • Met with community leaders at Hackleburg's town hall to discuss the ongoing disaster relief efforts and the progress made within the community.

On April 27, Alabama received a FEMA Emergency Declaration, and on April 28, President Obama issued a Major Disaster Declaration to help communities recover from the damage inflicted by severe storms, tornadoes, and flooding-qualifying residents for individual assistance and Federal assistance.

As of May 27, 2011, FEMA has opened 28 Disaster Relief Centers across Alabama, including one in Franklin County to support the Hackleburg area.

The entire Obama administration has been deeply involved in response and recovery efforts since the storms first hit, including:

  • On May 1, Secretary Napolitano joined Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Administrator Craig Fugate and Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills to survey the damage and the early response and recovery efforts underway in Alabama and Mississippi.
  • On May 26, DHS Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute traveled to Joplin, Missouri to tour the damaged areas and meet with state and local officials and first responders on the ground.
  • Early last week, Administrator Craig Fugate, Deputy Administrator Richard Serino and other senior DHS officials traveled to the Joplin area following the devastating tornadoes on May 22, 2011 -- working on behalf of President Obama to coordinate the ongoing federal disaster response.
  • Yesterday, President Obama visited Joplin to personally survey the damage and discuss response and relief efforts with first responders on the ground.

Photo of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute (left) touring tornado damage in Joplin, MO
Joplin, MO, May 26, 2011 -- U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute (left) tours tornado damage with Kathy Sullivan, Assistant Secretary of the Department oF commerce/National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, in a neighborhood near St. John's Regional Medical Center.


Photo of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate listening to first responders
Joplin, MO, May 26, 2011 -- U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate listen to first responders describe events surrounding Sunday evening's tornado in Joplin.

Families and individuals that have been impacted by the tornadoes and storms, and need assistance have several options for getting help:

  • Registering online at http://www.disasterassistance.gov,
  • Registering through a web-enabled mobile device at m.fema.gov, or
  • Calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.

From the White House: President Obama in Joplin: "It's an Example of What the American Spirit is all About"

Editor’s note: the blog post is cross-posted from the White House blog and updated May 30 with a video and photos.



Today, President Obama traveled to Joplin, Missouri to meet with those in the community who lost so much in the tornados last week and participate in a Memorial Service at Missouri Southern University.


Before the Memorial Service, President Obama visited one of the neighborhoods that was devastated by the tornadoes. After seeing the extensive tornado damage the President spoke to the people of Joplin and reminded them that they are not alone in this tragedy:

The main thing I just want to communicate to the people of Joplin is this is just not your tragedy. This is a national tragedy and that means there will be a national response.   Craig Fugate, who has probably been the busiest man in the federal government over this last bit of months, has been on the ground since just the day after this happened, and he's helping to coordinate with an outstanding team of state and local officials. We're going to do everything we can to continue whatever search and rescue remains. We are doing everything we can to make sure that folks get the shelter that they need, the support that they need.


The President also thanked all of the volunteers and community members who are lending a hand to their neighbors during this difficult time:

So to all the volunteers who are helping out -- one of the things that's been incredible is to see how many people from out of state have driven from as far a way as Texas, nearby Illinois, people just coming here to volunteer -- firefighters, ordinary citizens. It’s an example of what the American spirit is all about. And that gives us a lot of encouragement at a time when obviously people are going through a lot of hardship.

During the Memorial Service, the President spoke of the strength of the community coming together in response to the storm:

How we respond when the storm strikes is up to us. How we live in the aftermath of tragedy and heartache, that’s within our control. And it's in these moments, through our actions, that we often see the glimpse of what makes life worth living in the first place.

In the last week, that’s what Joplin has not just taught Missouri, not just taught America, but has taught the world. I was overseas in the aftermath of the storm, and had world leaders coming up to me saying, let the people of Joplin know we are with them; we’re thinking about them; we love them. (Applause.)

Because the world saw how Joplin responded. A university turned itself into a makeshift hospital. (Applause.) Some of you used your pickup trucks as ambulances, carrying the injured -- (applause) -- on doors that served as stretchers. Your restaurants have rushed food to people in need. Businesses have filled trucks with donations. You’ve waited in line for hours to donate blood to people you know, but also to people you’ve never met.

 

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