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home : opinion : opinion November 24, 2015

7/30/2014 4:28:00 PM
Government's response to disaster is - disastrous
Bill Forhan

Remember Katrina? Well, life hasn't changed much when it comes to getting help from the government. Politicians make a speech, declare an emergency and call for a study. In eastern Washington we're at the study stage - see the accompanying story submitted by the State Emergency Operations Center.
Fortunately in the meantime, neighbors and friends in North Central Washington and across the country have reached out to help. The emergency relief center is Pateros has trucks waiting in line to deliver food, clothing, generators and emergency supplies. Meals are being prepared and people are working around the clock to do whatever needs to be done.
The governments approach is not new. We expect our elected leaders to, well, lead. Instead they pontificate, study and have meetings to discuss what needs to be done. Governor Inslee showed up and declared all 20 eastern Washington counties to be in a state of emergency. Most are not but those that are have significant and immediate needs. By not focusing on those most in need of immediate help, the governor dilutes the effort.
The governor sought help from the Federal government who immediately promised to pay "up to 75 percent of the eligible costs." Problem is that the fine print says that does not include assistance to people who have lost their homes or for permanent repairs to damaged public infrastructure. So what exactly are they going to pay for?
Apparently, the answer is more studies. They are going to send in teams to study the damage. And they are not going to visit every home. They'll spend the week assessing the damage and then they'll decide if the state can meet the need or the Federal government will have to step in and help.
Here's a news flash - watch the news coverage. It is a disaster. And it is clearly going to take a long time and a lot of help to fix it.
The people in the effected towns need help now. They will also need help down the road in order to rebuild their lives and make their local communities vibrant centers of activity again. But right now they have immediate needs for shelter and electric service. They don't need a team of government employees to come in look around and say, "yup, this is a disaster."
If they really want to help they need to put the clipboards away and find trailers that can be brought in for temporary housing. It will take months if not years to rebuild.
If they really want to help they need to bring in experienced utility workers to assist the PUD crews in restoring power. There is plenty of electricity being produced by the local dams we just need to get the network of power lines rebuilt.
If they really want to help they would offer some assistance to local law enforcement in order to keep the looters away.
Finally, the major media need to get the story right. Contrary to what the governor has said the entire east side of the state is not a disaster area. By proclaiming it that way on the nightly news a vital and important part of the local economy is being irreparably harmed. Most of the people in the Eastern Cascades make a good part of their living on tourism. By declaring Highway 2 closed from Stevens pass to Leavenworth - erroneously - many planning vacations in Eastern Washington have stayed home - needlessly.
Leavenworth and Chelan are not part of the "worst fire in the states history." And while they have had a couple of days of heavy smoke it has mostly dissipated. The residents of those communities are reaching out to help their neighbors in every way they can. They could help a lot more if they weren't suffering from a loss of business created mostly by misinformation being spread by the west side media.
In the most severely impacted areas many of the businesses are still open, the smoke has cleared, the immediate danger is past and the largest salmon run in decades is making its way up the Columbia. Pateros, which had to cancel its annual Apple Pie Jamboree has just announced it will conduct the festival August 9. One way we can all help is to make a trip to Pateros and enjoy a slice of their local apple pie. Drop a little money in the economy and put a smile on everyone's face - including your own.

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