Obama Handles First Natural Disaster from Afar.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
By Penny Starr, Senior Staff Writer
(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama is handling the first natural disaster of his presidency--an ice storm that has claimed the lives of at least 59 people--from the White House, and so far has not visited the affected region. “The White House has been very engaged and continues to closely monitor the impacts of the storm,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro told CNSNews.com. “Federal resources have been deployed to the region to assist state and local officials in their response, and we realize that this is still a dangerous situation.” Kentucky was the hardest hit, with 28 storm-related deaths confirmed to CNSNews.com by the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, and some 18,000 customers were still without power on Friday morning, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. Shapiro said President Obama quickly granted Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s request for an emergency declaration. “Members of the administration have been in constant contact with Governor Beshear and the director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management to ensure there are no unmet needs or additional requests for federal assistance,” Shapiro said. But, according to Shapiro, Acting Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Nancy Ward did not arrive in Kentucky until Feb. 4 – 10 days after the Jan. 26 storm struck. Shapiro said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will visit Kentucky next week. “We are staying in close contact with FEMA, as they coordinate with state and local officials to assess the continued need for federal assistance and meet the emergency needs of the people of Kentucky,” Shapiro said. In a campaign speech in New Orleans on Feb. 7, 2008, then-candidate Obama promised not to repeat the George Bush administration’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina. “Across the city, we see the evidence that George Bush’s promises were empty,” Obama said. “If catastrophe comes,” Obama said, “the American people must be able to call on a competent government. When I am president, the days of dysfunction and cronyism in Washington will be over.” President George Bush was harshly criticized in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the Louisiana coast on Aug. 29, 2005, including his decision to fly over the devastated region two days later on Aug. 31. Bush said meeting security requirements necessary for the president to visit would have disrupted rescue operations. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) said it was up to President Obama to decide if he should visit the areas affected in Kentucky. “I think it is up to President Obama, but there is precedent for visiting disaster areas just to make sure that FEMA is doing everything necessary and that those affected are getting what they need,” Bunning said. “This is one of the worst storms in the history of Kentucky, and I know many folks are suffering right now. “I am watching things closely and have field representatives throughout the state who are in touch with FEMA and monitoring the situation on the ground to make sure that those in need of help are getting it during this difficult time,” Bunning said. Kristin Walker, press secretary for Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), told CNSNews.com that the congressman has spoken directly to President Obama to express the dire need for emergency assistance in his state but added that the reports from his field offices have so far been positive. “From the reports we are hearing, FEMA arrived on the ground in Kentucky quickly, and while recovery from such a devastating storm will take time, progress is continuing to be made,” Walker said. The largest call-up of Kentucky’s National Army Guardsman in the state’s history occurred on Jan. 31, with 4,600 soldiers and airmen pitching in to conduct searches, clear roads and distribute survival supplies, including those supplied by FEMA.