Ike By Number, And By People

January 10, 2009

The Daily News reports today on discrepancies in FEMA’s reporting on how much the agency has spent to house victims of Hurricane Ike:

Federal disaster aid officials acknowledged they “made a huge error” when they reported to The Daily News and the Galveston City Council that about $400 million had been spent to house county residents displaced by Hurricane Ike in hotels. The actual bill is closer to $29 million, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday.

“Nobody did the math until y’all did,” FEMA spokeswoman Bettina Hutchings said.

See also this week’s cover story in the Houston Press for first-person accounts and videos of life on the Coast post-Ike:

While Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans monopolized the eyes of the country and the world for weeks in 2005, Galveston had the misfortune to have Ike fall in the TV-watching dead zone of late night on Friday, September 12, three years later, and then to be eclipsed in the news cycle by even larger national and international events almost immediately.

By contrast, Katrina struck New Orleans at eight a.m. on a Monday in a nonelection year, almost as if it were a gift-wrapped page-one story for news-starved organizations the world over.

The neglect even has a bottom line: Wilma, Rita and Katrina together inspired people to give to all hurricane-related charities to the tune of almost $6.5 billion. The four biggest charities have only been able to come up with $19 million for Ike victims. If you are doing the math at home, that comes up to less than one-third of 1 percent. It’s a practically infinitesimal amount, even if you divide the $6.5 billion by three to account for the three storms. One example speaks volumes. The Bush-Clinton fund, run by the former presidents of those names, raised $135 million after Katrina. The same fund only managed to scrape together $2.5 million for Ike victims, despite the fact the storm hit the hometown of one of the principals.

“Galveston had the bad luck to get hit right before the financial meltdown. Everybody was also wound up in the presidential election,” says local author Dr. Roger Wood, a weekend Galvestonian. “People were talking about Sarah Palin, and it was like, ‘Oh yeah, I heard Galveston got wet.'”

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