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Public Statements

Statements of Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, one of the most striking things about the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is that the majority of stranded victims were our society's most vulnerable members--low-income families, the elderly, the homeless, the disabled. Many did not own cars. Many believed themselves unable to flee the city, unable to forego the income from missed work, unable to incur the expenses of travel, food and lodging. Some may have misunderstood the severity of the warnings, if they heard the warnings at all. Some may have needed help that was unavailable. Whatever the reason, they were not evacuated and we have seen the horrific results.

This failure to evacuate so many of the most desperate citizens of the Gulf Coast leads me to introduce today a bill to require states and the nation to consider the needs of our neediest citizens in times of emergency.

It appears that certain assumptions were made in planning and preparing for the worst case scenario in the Gulf Coast. After all, most of those who could afford to evacuate managed to do so. They drove out of town and checked into hotels or stayed with friends and family. But what about the thousands of people left behind because they had special needs?

How many of us will forget the tragedy that occurred at St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, LA, where an estimated 32 of the 60 residents perished in the rising floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?

Our charge as public servants is to worry about all of the people. I am troubled that our emergency response and disaster plans were inadequate for large segments of the Gulf Coast population. I wonder whether the plans in other regions are adequate. Perfect evacuation planning is obviously impractical, but greater advance preparation can ensure that the most vulnerable are not simply forgotten or ignored.

That's why the bill I am introducing today, along with co-sponsors Senators BAYH, MURRAY, HARKIN, LEVIN, CORZINE, FEINGOLD, BINGAMAN and KENNEDY, requires the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to mandate each State to include plans for the evacuation of individuals with special needs during times of emergency. Such plans should not only include an explanation of how these people--low income individuals and families, the elderly, the disabled, those who cannot speak English--will be evacuated out of the emergency area and how the states will provide shelter, food, and water, to these people once evacuated.

Communities with special needs may be more challenging to accommodate, but they are every bit as important to protect and serve in the event of an emergency.

What we saw in the Gulf Coast cannot be repeated. We may not be able to control the wrath of Mother Nature, but we can control how we prepare for natural disasters.

I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this legislation.

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