Op-ed: Rep. Hare Pledges Help
One year ago a levee breach near Carthage Lake sent water flooding into Henderson County, changing the lives of the people of Gulfport forever. Homes and businesses were destroyed. A village of 200 turned into a ghost town for nearly four months. Gulfport was my district's New Orleans.
The response from the state and federal government was inadequate at best. When families needed clear answers about how they could rebuild and recover, they instead got bureaucratic red tape. As is too often the case, this natural disaster was exacerbated by man-made incompetence.
This paper's editorial page criticized me and other Illinois officials for waiting too long to visit Gulfport. Make no mistake -- my staff and I have been working nonstop to help get this village back on its feet since the moment it was first flooded. But in retrospect, Gulfport's residents deserved to see my face sooner, even if it was just to say, "I'm listening."
Shortly after I was re-elected last November, I began seeking a seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, largely because I knew that panel would give me the best opportunity to help the people of Gulfport. I am currently working with the Committee, the Army Corps of Engineers, and FEMA to improve flood protection and flood recovery efforts in my district and to expand flood-ravaged U.S. 34.
I have been to Gulfport twice in the past three months. During my latest visit, I facilitated a meeting with Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Andrew Velasquez along with officials from the Corps and FEMA so the people of Gulfport could start to have their questions answered. I have also personally requested the governor of Illinois and the national FEMA director visit the village.
The people of Gulfport will soon have to make the tough decision whether to accept buyouts or rebuild and recertify their levy. Let me be clear -- this critical question should be left up to the people of Gulfport. I have worked hard to make both outcomes more amenable to the village and its residents.
For instance, I helped get money flowing so the University of Illinois Extension could continue work on a mitigation plan that would make buyouts available to families that want them. And I also have worked firsthand with all of the key players to raise the levy to FEMA-approved levels.
Shortly after my first visit to Gulfport, I asked residents to send me letters about their experiences. Their stories are personal tragedies. I have shared them with my colleagues in Congress in order to make the case for rebuilding our levy system to ensure something like this never happens again.
One resident wrote: "We are supposed to be the greatest nation in the world, but we don't seem to be that way lately. In the past 10 years, there have been so many national and international disasters that have been supported, but it seems like ours doesn't count for anything."
On this one-year anniversary of the Gulfport flood, I want to send every current and former resident this message: You do count. Your families count. Your village counts. And as long as I am privileged to represent you in Congress, I will do everything in my power to help you.