Hurricane Katrina brings new challenges

Published 2:17 pm Monday, September 5, 2005

By By Jo Bonner
For a period of several months now, we have seen an ongoing pattern where each time south Alabama and the Gulf Coast finally recover from the effects of a major hurricane, another storm hits our area. And each time, the impact of this storm has provided us with new and seemingly greater challenges.
Hurricane Katrina this past week was certainly the worst episode in what has become an all-too-familiar and tragic cycle, and our nation is now faced with a set of unprecedented challenges. Never in our country's history have we witnessed a natural disaster that has impacted so many people in such a wide area. In fact, as of the writing of this column, millions of people along the Gulf Coast have been displaced from their homes in a period of only five days.
I have lived through many major hurricanes during my lifetime: Camille, Frederic, and Ivan, to name just a very few. However, never have I seen destruction, panic, and fear on this massive scale.
Close to home, it was certainly devastating that Bayou La Batre, Coden, Dauphin Island, and other areas in Mobile County were so severely damaged, along with some communities in Baldwin County fronting Mobile Bay which also received significant damage. The four rural counties in the district also received wind and rain damage and experienced power outages affecting thousands of families.
The communities of south Alabama will recover – as they always have – from this latest storm, but it will take some time. However, after talking to officials from all levels of the federal government about the impact on our neighbors to the west, it is very clear that the recovery there will take much longer.
As more information becomes available, and the magnitude of the storm's impact becomes even more apparent, it becomes clear that this recovery will be lengthy. In fact, the rebuilding of many of the areas on the Gulf Coast is not something that will take days, weeks, or months; it will, in fact, take years.
It is during difficult times like this that the true American spirit reveals itself. I am not talking only of the response of local, state, and federal governments, although they will each play an extremely important role in this effort. In fact, Congress came back into emergency session to pass a $10.5 billion supplemental spending bill to enable FEMA to continue what has become the largest coordinated relief effort in American history. This emergency spending measure is certainly only the beginning, since we here in Washington will continue to work closely with the president and emergency agencies to ensure they continue receiving the funding they need.
I am not even referring to the many humanitarian organizations who are working around the clock to gather food, water, medical supplies, and money for those who need it most.
I am, in fact, referring to individual Americans. It is at times such as this that we show our true spirit of giving and of brotherhood – of revealing the "good Samaritan" in all of us. While the level of support we can each provide certainly varies, it is very important at this time that we all do what we can to help our neighbors – not only our immediate neighbors here in Alabama, but those further away in Mississippi and Louisiana.
In an effort to provide my constituents with information on how they can make contributions to a number of relief and humanitarian organizations, I have posted a short list of these groups and contact numbers on my Internet website. I would encourage you to visit it at and find out more about the organizations which can use all of our help.
Above all else, I am very aware that there are many of you who have friends and loved ones in the areas affected by this storm who have been displaced or who have not yet been accounted for. Please know that my thoughts and prayers, as well as those of many, many others here in Alabama and around the country, are with each of you during this time.
Gasoline shortage poses problems
One of the most significant concerns raised in the days immediately following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina has been the short supply of gasoline. As a result of the storm, a large percentage of the wells, platforms, and refineries upon which the oil and gas industry depend were severely damage.
In the short term, we are all faced with a shortage of readily available fuel. I have been in touch with both the administration and the Department of Energy regarding this shortage in an effort to get answers on when more fuel will become available. I have also contacted the major oil companies to get estimates from them on when their refineries and pipelines will be back on line, and I have talked to officials with the State of Alabama in an effort to get generators sent down to stations so that – once fuel is received – they will be able to operate their pumps.
There are things we can all do to help, including carpooling and traveling only when necessary, in order to save gas during this time. However, there is also something more important which we can all do: buy only the gas which you need.
At many points during our nation's history, there have been times – known in our history textbooks as "panics" – when adverse conditions affecting the financial and economic sectors of the country have caused individuals to hoard more than they need. Some may recall reading of the times in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries when bank panics caused customers to run to their financial institutions and withdraw all of their money – not just money they needed, but money they wanted.
The same situation applies here in terms of our current regional fuel supply. Unlike those you may have seen in your own community, I would urge you, once a steady supply of fuel becomes available, to buy only the gas you need.
My staff and I are here to serve you. Please call whenever we can be of assistance.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.

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