Utahn Shares Personal Perspective on FEMA Communication

Utahn Shares Personal Perspective on FEMA Communication

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Samantha Hayes ReportingThe question of "what went wrong?" with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts will probably be the focus of investigations for months to come. A Utah man has an interesting perspective on the government agency responsible.

In 1992 Tom Panuzio was in a position to help during Hurricane Andrew,a Category 5 storm that hit Florida and the Gulf Coast. Before Katrina, it was the most expensive natural disaster in our history. Being an expert in disasters is nothing to brag about, but Thomas Panuzio knew what was coming with Hurricane Katrina.

Thomas Panuzio, Former FEMA Special Assistant: "I followed the storm 12-24 hours before it hit. Just a gut wrenching feeling that this is the one. And it was a helpless feeling."

It was the one everyone feared, the one that flooded New Orleans, but help was slow to arrive.

Thomas Panuzio: "The communication was a complete failure, in my mind."

Panuzio was a special assistant with FEMA in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit.

Thomas Panuzio: "I know the potentials because I saw what happened with Andrew. This was worse than Andrew and Andrew was a category 5."

Part of Panuzio's job during that time was to coordinate state governments with FEMA; he saw the damage first-hand.

Thomas Panuzio: "It looked like a tornado, a 30 mile wide tornado had gone through Miami."

Panuzio compares the damage in hurricanes Andrew and Katrina with a war zone, and in that sense believes only the military is prepared to handle it as first responders.

Thomas Panuzio: "I think for the future if there is a category 3, category 4, certainly a category 5 storm, I think the first responders should be coordinated through the military. I think that's the biggest change we need to make."

Panuzio believes even if FEMA coordinated perfectly with local governments, thousands of people would still have died when the levees in New Orleans broke.

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