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Hurricane Katrina's year anniversary

By By Jo Bonner
Tuesday, August 28, marks a somber day; it is the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina-the nation's most catastrophic natural disaster.
The storm devastated a 90,000 square-mile area. To put that in perspective, the affected area was over half the size of the state of Alabama. The storm resulted in the largest displacement of Americans in our nation's history, forcing more than 270,000 people into shelters after the storm made landfall.
Never in our country's history have we witnessed a natural disaster that has impacted so many people in such a wide area nor have we seen such an unprecedented recovery effort.
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.
As it became apparent in the immediate aftermath, the recovery has been lengthy. In fact, the rebuilding of many of the areas on the Gulf Coast will take years-not months.
In all, Congress has appropriated more than $122.5 billion for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita relief.
More than 650,000 households have been provided manufactured housing units and other temporary housing assistance to live in apartments, manufactured homes, or other temporary housing units. To date, there are more than 112,000 travel trailers and mobile homes serving as temporary housing for Hurricane Katrina victims.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has paid out more than $15.3 billion to policyholders affected by Hurricane Katrina, more than the combined total of the previous 37 years of the NFIP program.
Additionally, Congress took swift action to help families and businesses devastated by the storm by passing the following legislation:
TANF Emergency Response and Recovery Act of 2005
This emergency bill helped speed individuals' access to federal disaster relief by removing red tape and increasing the availability of federal funds.
Social Services Emergency Relief and Recovery Act of 2005: This legislation helped Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi provide regular unemployment benefits to workers who lost their jobs as a result of the storm and provided critical health assistance to low-income individuals.
Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005
This legislation focused on revitalizing the hurricane-damaged economies in the Gulf region and promoting economic development.
Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005
This bill provided tax relief to individuals and families affected by Hurricane Katrina to increase the resources available to them as they worked to rebuild.
Last year's hurricanes exposed weaknesses in our federal emergency management system. Over the past year, Congress has been working closely with the president to address these weaknesses and improve the response.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has taken widespread actions to improve its own capabilities and coordination efforts, including upgrading its situational awareness, emergency communications, commodity distribution and tracking capabilities, debris removal, temporary housing and victim management programs.
The Department of Homeland Security has dramatically increased its stockpiles of MRE's, water, and ice-storing enough to feed 1 million people for an entire year-and doubled the number of disaster assistance employees.
In the last 52 weeks, we have witnessed the best America has to offer-towns and cities throughout the United States have opened their hearts and homes to thousands of families displaced from their homes as a result of this horrific storm. Relief organizations both large and small have coordinated deliveries of food, clothing, water, and other basic necessities to those impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
Help has even come from across the ocean as over two dozen countries stepped forward to offer financial and material support to the American people.
Although the storm was indeed tragic and has led to staggering losses throughout south Alabama, it has also given us all the opportunity to demonstrate our strong commitment to our families and neighbors to work together as a single community to pick ourselves up and move forward.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at http://bonner.house.gov.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.