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Congressman gives state voice in Katrina probe

Third District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering is a member of thefederal Hurricane Katrina committee probing disaster relief effortsbefore, during and after the storm that devastated the GulfCoast.

Pickering said in meetings Thursday morning the SelectBipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for andResponse to Hurricane Katrina heard reports and interviewed thehead of the National Weather Service about the days leading up toKatrina’s landfall.

“They got it right,” he said, noting the information the agencyprovided on when and where the hurricane would strike, it’spotential power and the extent of the damage were on target.

“The National Weather Service gave us as accurate and reliableinformation as was known at the time,” Pickering said.

He also said the agency performed well in tracking the storm anddisseminating that information to officials and the public asquickly as possible.

“We also discussed what we should do to evacuate and prepare forsuch a disaster when it occurs again,” Pickering said.

Although it is too soon for information learned by the committeeto be used effectively, the federal government has alreadyaddressed some of the complications posed by Hurricane Katrina asthey prepared for Hurricane Rita’s Texas landfall Saturday. Tons ofsupplies and thousands of personnel have already been rushed toTexas to respond to that crisis.

One thing Pickering expects will be made clear during the courseof the investigation is that oftentimes private organizations wereable to more quickly step in to assist those in need because theywere not hampered with a bureaucracy.

“I have watched the forces of compassion overcome thedestruction of the hurricane and surpass the actions of thegovernment,” he said. “Government has a role, but when neighborshelp each other and communities come together, we will build astronger Mississippi and more quickly restore stability to ourdamaged towns and counties. I appreciate the tremendous resourcesof the federal government, but I also have seen frustrations withpolicies and bureaucracies.”

When the Katrina committee reconvenes next week, he said, itwill have to tackle some of the more fundamental and difficultissues. Those issues include asking what caused the FederalEmergency Management Agency delay, how well the Department ofHomeland Security responded both locally and federally and whatrole should the national military take in future disasters, amongother questions raised during and after the storm that has leftmore than 1,000 dead.

“This is not a committee that wants to blame, but it wants tolearn what went right and what went wrong,” Pickering said. “A lotwent right. Some things went wrong. We’re laying the groundwork toimprove the country’s response to disaster.”

The work of the committee is important, he said, but he said itdoes want to distract attention from the present recovery andrebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast.

“We also want to shine a light on where we are today and how wecan better assist individuals to ensure the response is aseffective and rapid as possible,” he said.

Pickering said he volunteered to join the committee, which alsoincludes Democrat Gene Taylor, who represents the Gulf Coast, andLouisiana Democrat Charlie Melancon, because he thought it “veryimportant for someone to speak directly about the experiences wehad.”

One concern Pickering shares with the mainstream media is theparty disparity on the committee. Taylor and Melancon are the onlyDemocrats on what is presently a 13-member panel.

“I think it would be a great tragedy for the results of thiscommittee to be questioned because of partisanship,” he said. “Weneed to be united as a country and a congress as the affectedregion and the country recovers from this devastatingdisaster.”

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has requested MinorityLeader Nancy Pelosi to appoint nine more members to the panel,Pickering said. He does have the authority to make thoseappointments himself if Pelosi does step forward.