EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. - When floodwaters knocked out the water treatment plant in Mason City, Iowa, FEMA rolled into town and promptly set up an account with a Pepsi bottler to supply bottled water. Then FEMA officials moved into a vacant store and began handing out the stuff.
"We saw different FEMA people in and out," City Administrator Brent Trout said. "We really started seeing FEMA people showing up to see what was going on in town and putting out the word on flood assistance."
Nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina turned FEMA into a punchline, many homeowners, politicians and community leaders in the flood-stricken Midwest say that so far, the agency is doing a heckuva job — and they mean it.
Up and down the Big Muddy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is being commended for responding quickly and surely.
"The lessons we learned from Katrina we've taken very seriously," said Glenn Cannon, FEMA assistant administrator for disaster operations. He added: "We've changed the way we do business. We don't wait to react."
Now, storms and flooding in the upper Midwest have left 24 people dead, driven tens of thousands from their homes and caused billions in damage. After the rain started falling in early June, FEMA arrived with 13 million sandbags to pile onto the levees, 200 generators, and 30 trucks to haul off debris. Across the upper Midwest, the agency has delivered nearly 3.6 million liters of water and 192,000 ready-to-eat meals. About 650 inspectors are working in Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin alone.
In Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin alone, FEMA has received about 45,000 registrations for assistance from disaster victims. The agency has already handed out $81 million in housing assistance funds, said Carlos Castillo, a FEMA official. Flooded-out homeowners said FEMA has been quick to dispense checks, and leaders in inundated towns in Iowa said the agency wasted little time in assessing damage. That is key to getting federal disaster declarations that trigger eligibility for assistance, including money to help repair or replace a home.