In late January, the ice storm in Kentucky crippled parts of the state. But President Barack Obama declared the state a major disaster area this week, even though hundreds of thousands people lost power and 24 people died weeks ago. What took him so long?
It's a massive mess in Kentucky: a late January ice storm caused power outages across the state, and now 125,000 homes are still without electricity. At the peak, 700,000 people were powerless (literally and figuratively). Around 27 deaths have been attributed to the Kentucky ice storm. Louisville alone is damaged so deeply the bill to fund repairs will be close to $2.1 million.
It took two weeks for President Barack Obama to declare the state a disaster zone. Sure, he's been inundated with a recession gobbling up his attention. Yes, the Daschle debacle was an unnecessary distraction. But the American people were looking for a president with compassion, someone who could step up in the face of a natural disaster. Americans are done with Bush-esque response times to hurricanes. Then again, Kentucky is shaping up to be Obama's Katrina.
To be blunt, Washington hasn't moved quick enough to respond to this crisis. The lag time should be brought into more tangible terms: families without power couldn't stay warm in this cold winter, waiting for authorities to clear debris and restore electricity.
Photo by Rob Matthu
Ice on a tree during the Kentucky storm
And with a stroke of a pen, Obama declared Kentucky a disaster area and effectively ushered in millions of dollars of reimbursements to various counties. The feds will reimburse 75 per cent of costs associated with the storm cleanup but some officials say that isn't enough.
Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson was quoted as saying, "The 75 per cent, plus the portion from the state, could give us as much as 85 per cent of our dollars back in the hope that we'll reach the 100 per cent reimbursement."
Adding to that unanswered query is the problem over rural areas. While major cities will be treated to the National Guard and federal assistance, some rural parts of Kentucky may not have power restored for weeks, if not months.
When Obama was campaigning across the country, he criticized Bush's poor response to Katrina. He talked at length about comforting people in need, of assisting those from all backgrounds. He said the U.S. and FEMA should respond quickly when natural disasters strike.
It's obvious that Obama responded. That's true. But his delay in offering reimbursements, coupled with the image of Obama enjoying a Super Bowl party while Kentucky residents shiver in fear, may not leave the American consciousness so soon.