Texas Times: An Epic Storm

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn Oct. 9, 2008, 8:20am

The end of a violent storm calms some of our fears, but stirs up a new set of concerns and challenges.

Everywhere I have traveled in the areas struck by Hurricane Ike, I have seen destruction almost beyond belief. There's no question this storm delivered a devastating blow to Southeast and East Texas.

Unfortunately, Ike came on the heels of earlier storms this season, like Hurricane Dolly, which also hurt Texas families and small businesses. Now we see in front of us a job of recovering and rebuilding that will test the best we have to offer.

Positive things already are happening, thanks to the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-down-to-work attitude Texans are known for. Thousands, including people from other states, immediately began tackling the jobs of caring for evacuees and survivors, search and rescue efforts, restoring power, and removing wreckage and debris.

One of my highest priorities is to push the federal government and cut through red tape to get the aid Texas needs as fast as possible. Communities in Texas are struggling right now and the federal government needs to be doing everything in its power to help them.

Equally important is making sure that the victims are treated on par with the way victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and other disasters were treated when it comes to federal funding for recovery and rebuilding. We also must ensure the flow of assistance continues steadily and consistently as long as additional needs are uncovered.

Over the past few weeks, I've had several opportunities to visit communities damaged by Ike. I will go back time and time again until the recovery is complete.

I joined U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in surveying the regions that suffered a direct hit. In the following days, President Bush and I got a gut-wrenching look at stricken areas and gathered information from emergency workers on the ground.

During my most recent trip, I worked elbow-to-elbow with volunteers and witnessed firsthand the incredible needs and pressures they are facing.

Information from these trips armed me to go back to Washington, D.C. to make the case for the federal assistance Texas needs and deserves. An important step forward came with Senate approval to secure new tax relief provisions for Texas counties devastated by Ike in the tax extenders package.

The original package treated Texas unequally compared to flood recovery efforts in the Midwest, so I worked to ensure that Ike victims are entitled to the same benefits as other disaster victims. This bill will extend tax exempt bonds and low income housing tax credits to help Texans rebuild their communities, homes and businesses.

In addition, working with my colleagues in the Texas Congressional delegation, we were successful in securing supplemental disaster funding for Texas, including vital Community Development Block Grant funding to help rebuild housing stock and repair damaged public infrastructure. Victims of both Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Dolly will be eligible for this critical assistance.

Clearly, the lessons of Katrina and Rita were taken to heart before, during and after Ike.

I commend Governor Rick Perry and his team, as well as mayors, county judges, other local officials and their staffs, first responders and charitable organizations for the preparations that kept millions of Texans safe from harm. Because of their tireless efforts, we are certainly on the right path to making Texas whole again.

There is more work, however, to be done to fully recover from all storms this season – particularly Ike and Dolly – but I know Texas is up to the task. History will undoubtedly remember their fury and destruction. But more importantly, it will record Texas' great can-do spirit and the unprecedented outpouring of compassion and assistance that followed.

Once the rebuilding and recovery is complete, it's my hope that the memories that endure are those of volunteerism and Texans helping their neighbors in need.

Sen. Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee's Airland subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.

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