Officials: ‘things will get better’

“This is a great day for Orange County, no question about it,” said County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said after meeting Monday with Michael Chertoff, top man in the Washington office that oversees FEMA.

“Things are moving, but we want it to move faster,” Thibodeaux said. “After meeting today we feel like we can unclog some of the pipelines. He feels it like we feel it, and it’s going to get better.”

Chertoff is the secretary for the department of homeland security, appointed in 2005 by President Bush.

Monday’s stop was not his first in Orange County. 

“I was down here a day or two after the storm hit, and got to see some of the damage first-hand … obviously that left a vivid impression,” he said. “We want as many people in homes by the holidays as we possibly can. Some of that requires certain people to step forward, for example [those] who’ve moved to other areas; we’re going to encourage them to reach out to FEMA if their home isn’t inhabitable so that we can engage with them and see about getting them a mobile home … I’m hoping that the people being identified will increase on a daily basis over the next few months.

According to Chertoff, 1,300 manufactured units are in Texas, with about half of those fully installed. Some $250 million has been approved for disaster housing, with $64 million approved for property repairs. About 700,00 persons have registered with FEMA, he said.

“For those who have been rejected by FEMA, I encourage them to apply again if they learned something more about their situation or if something new comes to light,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to deny anybody that qualifies … I understand a lot of families are driving considerable distances for either work, or to work on their homes … and we are moving to pick up the pace very dramatically on temporary housing.”

Although Chertoff said he plans to step down when President Bush leaves Washington in January, many of his colleagues will likely stay on to continue working with Southeast Texans. “Some people spend their entire careers with FEMA,” he said.

He added, “We’re going to have an extensive changeover and give the new team some feel of what kind of challenges we face. Every hurricane presents a number of lessons upon which we can improve.”

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, who attended the meeting along with area mayors including Orange’s Brown Claybar and Bridge City’s Kirk Roccaforte, commented, “Temporary housing is the No. 1 priority for Southeast Texas. We’re seeing progress on the ground and today’s meeting was very helpful.”