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DOT's Actions in Response to Hurricane Katrina






OCTOBER 6, 2005


Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Department of Transportation’s actions in response to Hurricane Katrina.  Our hearts go out to our fellow citizens affected by Katrina, and my Department will continue to help residents of the Gulf Coast rebuild their transportation infrastructure and help restore their lives.  This storm has presented enormous challenges.  Yet, it has also brought out the best in the public servants at our Department.  I am grateful for their continued service.  Today, I would like to do three things: recount our response to the immediate aftermath of Katrina, our current recovery efforts, and our commitment to prevent wasteful or fraudulent spending of federal funds.


The Department of Transportation has specific roles and responsibilities in an event like Katrina. Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-5, signed by President Bush in 2003, directed that a National Response Plan (NRP) be prepared and designated the Secretary of Homeland Security as the principal Federal official for domestic incident management.  The NRP designates DOT as the lead support agency to DHS/FEMA for Emergency Support Function 1 (ESF-1) / Transportation, and calls for DOT to do the following during and Incident of National Significance:

  1. Process and coordinate requests for Federal and civil transportation support;
  2. Report damage to transportation infrastructure as a result of the incident;
  3. Coordinate alternate transportation services;
  4. Coordinate the restoration and recovery of transportation infrastructure;
  5. Perform activities conducted under the direct authority of DOT elements such as air, maritime, surface, rail and pipelines; and
  6. Coordinate and support prevention/preparedness/mitigation among transportation infrastructure stakeholders at the State and local levels.

The Department also relies on authority under 49 U.S.C. 301, the "Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act," the "Defense Production Act of 1950," and Executive Order 12656 (Assignment of Emergency Preparedness Responsibilities) to fulfill its responsibilities under ESF-1.

With respect to recovery, DOT oversees federal infrastructure programs which support the rebuilding of highway, bridge and airport assets from damage due to an event like Katrina. Our Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) administers the Emergency Relief program, which provides reimbursement to states for expenses related to highway infrastructure damage.  FHWA works closely with state departments of transportation and Federal Land Management Agencies to quickly assess damage and facilitate the necessary repairs. Examples of the type of work eligible for Emergency Relief program reimbursement include repairing pavements, shoulders, slopes, embankments, guard rails, signs, traffic control devices, and bridges, and removing debris from the highway rights-of-way.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has similar authority to help rebuild airport infrastructure under its Airport Improvement Program (AIP).  In addition, the FAA also is responsible for restoring air traffic control capabilities to facilitate the rapid resumption of flights into and out of the affected region.

DOT also uses its expertise in other modes of transportation to help port authorities, transit agencies, and private rail and pipeline operators assess damage to their infrastructure, identify specific needs, and restore service to their customers.  

DOT Response Efforts

The Department of Transportation has been heavily involved in numerous areas of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.  In our role as lead agency for transportation under ESF-1, we have provided 11,377 trucks[a1]  to FEMA since the onset of the storm in order to move 14,097 truckloads of goods.  Over 1,350 buses and 15 helicopters were mobilized to support the evacuation and assist in the response.  We have delivered over 19 million meals ready-to-eat (MREs), 25 million liters of water, 13 million pounds of ice, 11 thousand power units and 2 thousand mobile homes. 

The Department’s emergency support staff began responding to Katrina well before the storm made landfall.  On Wednesday, August 24, our ESF-1 staff in Washington and in Region 4 – which includes Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and several other southeastern states – were put on alert as Katrina began strengthening over the Central Bahamas.  On the morning of Thursday, August 25, FEMA activated the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) here in Washington and the Region 4 Regional Response Coordination Center in Atlanta, mobilizing several Emergency Support Functions, including ESF-1.  DOT staff reported to both locations immediately and began preparations for Katrina’s expected landfall in southeastern Florida.  Those preparations included establishment of the Emergency Transportation Center in Atlanta.  At that time, DOT was tasked with moving 182 truckloads of goods, including generators, ice, water and MREs.

As the storm moved beyond Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico on Friday and Saturday, the Department shifted the focus of its efforts to the Gulf region (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle), while continuing to support recovery efforts from the limited damage that occurred in southeast Florida.  To support these preparedness efforts, we continued staffing National and Regional operations centers while helping to establish operations centers in each of the Gulf States. 

By Sunday, August 28, many localities in the region were completing their evacuations.  Shelters began opening away from the coastal areas as well as in neighboring states like Texas, with some transit agencies like the New Orleans Regional Transit Administration (NORTA) running a free shuttle service from ten locations around the city to emergency shelters.  Also in the New Orleans area, the FAA evacuated its tower at Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY), streetcars were shut down, traffic on the Lower Mississippi River was halted, and Amtrak began terminating its trains short of the city.

On Monday morning, August 29, when Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds, the DOT Crisis Management Center activated its Emergency Response Team (ERT) to ensure that we were mobilizing all possible resources to support the response effort.  The ERT is a scalable structure that provides for instant communication and coordination among senior staff in the Office of the Secretary and our modal administrations.

On Tuesday, I created a special team of senior executives from across the Department to travel to the effected area and assess the damage and help ensure that DOT was mobilizing available resources to assist in the response.  In hindsight, this decision was critical to our ability to respond to this disaster quickly and effectively.  Our team, half of which was deployed to Louisiana and the other half to Mississippi, served as our eyes and ears in those critical days after Katrina hit and provided invaluable information and support.

While there were dozens of tasks that the Department was asked to undertake in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, I would like to highlight three that are particularly noteworthy.  You will not, by the way, find these items in a typical description of the Department’s day-to-day responsibilities.  Instead, they serve a clear testament to the commitment of the Department of Transportation to see a problem and try and provide a response.  It is also evidence of the severity and uniqueness of this storm, and the tremendous challenges it posed. 

First, the day after Katrina hit the Gulf coast our Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) identified a potential major problem.  The Colonial and Plantation pipelines, the only major source of gasoline, jet and diesel fuel for the southeast United States from Alabama to Maryland, had been shut down by the electrical outages due to the storm.  Their customers suggested that they would run out of fuel in just 48 hours.  PHMSA immediately approved the manual operation of facility controls to provide for a low-tech, 1950's style configuration for both pipelines and deployed inspectors to each rural pumping station to assure the safety of these operations.  By Wednesday evening both Plantation and Colonial were able to restore their pipelines to 30% of normal operations.

In the meantime, Colonial had identified a supply of twenty-eight generators.  Through a coordinated effort involving several of our modal administrations, the Department arranged for police escort of Colonial’s road clearing crew and tractor trailers carrying the generators from states in the Midwest, Northeast and Florida to their ultimate destination – rural pumping stations in Mississippi.  In short, both the Colonial and Plantation pipelines were restored to 50% capacity within three days of identifying this problem and were restored to full capacity less than one week after Katrina made landfall.  Once power was restored, we worked with the operators to loan these generators to other locations in support of the relief effort.  Let me underscore the fact that without the prompt action taken by our Department and the pipeline operators, the supply of gasoline, jet and diesel fuel throughout the southeastern and Mid-Atlantic United States would have been significantly reduced.

Later that week, DHS Deputy Secretary Jackson called to ask for DOT’s help in supporting an historic evacuation of the City of New Orleans. Thousands of residents needed to be evacuated quickly, including many in need of food, water and urgent medical care.  The Department immediately organized what became the largest civilian airlift in U.S. history.  In just 24 hours, the Department and its federal and private sector partners turned Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans into an evacuation hub, including a triage unit to support evacuees’ medical needs.  Between September 3 and September 11, we evacuated approximately 24,400 people via airlift, both civilian and military, to sites across the U.S. 

Finally, the Department, through the Maritime Administration, supported the response efforts in New Orleans, through immediate use of two of its Ready Reserve Force (RRF) vessels that were docked at the Port of New Orleans' Poland Street Wharf when Katrina made landfall. We immediately offered these vessels to the President and CEO of the New Orleans Port Authority, Gary LaGrange, who used them to help restore operations at what is the fifth largest port complex in the U.S. Mr. LaGrange used our Cape Knox, for example, as a base of operations for nearly a week until his offices had limited power restored, and he continues to house some of his workers on this vessel. 

DOT Recovery Efforts

It is difficult to overstate the damage that Katrina did to the Gulf region, including major pieces of transportation infrastructure.  All of you have seen on television the destruction left in its wake.  I have now made three visits to the region since Katrina hit and must say that I have been truly awestruck by the scope of the devastation.  Huge pieces of interstate highways weighing many tons were literally picked up off their supports and deposited in Lake Ponchartrain.  Entire buildings, like the casinos along the Mississippi coast, were scooped up by this storm and tossed onto US 90, an important artery for Gulf coast residents that has been literally wiped out in numerous locations.  The Port of Gulfport, Mississippi was left with virtually nothing and must rebuild almost from scratch.  Immediately after the storm, nearly 3 million customers were without power, leaving major pipelines, airports and other facilities unable to function.

The Department has been actively working to support recovery efforts across the region.  Every day we are making more and more progress in assessing and repairing the transportation systems damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  Our primary goal is to help restore the stability and quality of life to the people of the Gulf Coast as quickly as possible.  Over the past few weeks we have made remarkable strides across all modes of transportation, and we will continue to build on that success to ensure that the region’s transportation network serves an engine of its economic recovery.    


Two weeks ago, I visited Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport to announce a grant of $15.2 million to repair and rebuild the airport’s airfield lighting, fencing and other security systems damaged by the hurricane.   Damage assessments at Louis Armstrong are ongoing and the Federal Aviation Administration is continuing its efforts to determine what additional assistance may be needed for the airport.  Commercial passenger services have returned to New Orleans, albeit at reduced levels.  We continue to work with the state and local governments and the airlines to return the airport to its previous level of service.  Our efforts in Louisiana will not be limited only to commercial aviation.  Lakefront, New Orleans’ primary general aviation airport, was totally submerged for one week and sustained extensive damage.  We are continuing to assess those damages and are working with city officials and the airport’s users to develop a plan to resume general aviation operations at the airport.

In Mississippi, Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport is fully operational, and we have issued a $1.6 million grant for terminal repairs and airfield lighting.  A $1.4 million grant has also been provided to Bay St. Louis for airfield lighting and rescue equipment that was damaged during the hurricane.  As these critical repairs occur at the two major commercial airports in the region, the FAA is moving to return all regional facilities, navigation aids and communications equipment to full capability.


The surveys and aerial pictures of I-10, US 90, and other area roads tell the story of Katrina’s force, but seeing the devastation and destruction in person was shocking.  The Department has made down payments to the States of Louisiana and Mississippi for emergency relief. During my trip to the region, I toured the I-10 Twin Span Bridge which connects New Orleans and Slidell and announced $5 million in immediate relief with the understanding that more funds to support the repair of the bridge and damage to other Federal-aid highways and bridges would be forthcoming through the Emergency Relief program.  A $31 million contract issued by the State of Louisiana will restore two-way, single span access to New Orleans by October 30 and access to both spans within 120 days.  The State is contemplating a replacement bridge that would be constructed to current design standards and criteria, and we will work with them to support those efforts.  I should note that reimbursement under the Emergency Relief program is for the repair and restoration of highway facilities to pre-disaster conditions--Emergency Relief program reimbursement is not for new construction to increase capacity, correct non-disaster related deficiencies, or otherwise improve highway facilities.

In Mississippi, I saw encouraging signs of progress as road crews worked to reopen closed portions of US 90.  A similar release of $5 million in immediate emergency relief funds was made available to the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) to reimburse the state for repairs to US 90, I-10 and other federally funded roads and bridges. In supporting the local economy, I am pleased to report that three Mississippi firms were selected to handle some of the emergency reconstruction efforts of US 90.  We will continue to work with Governor Barbour and MDOT as they develop their long term vision of the US 90 corridor while ensuring that this temporary fix is completed as soon as possible. 

Contracting incentives have been employed by both Mississippi and Louisiana to provide construction companies and their crews a strong impetus to get the job done as expeditiously as possible.  We strongly support these “incentivized” contracts and our Federal Highway Administration is out in the field working closely with the states to exercise all options and tools available during this rebuilding effort.  For example, Mississippi awarded a $5.2 million contract to repair one of the highest priority roads in the region – the I-10 bridge at Pascagoula – and included not only an incentive if work is completed in less than 31 days, but also a corresponding penalty for finishing late.  I am pleased to report this bridge reopened on October 1 – more than a week ahead of the contract completion date.       

The Administration recognizes that a significant amount of works remains to be done to repair and restore the highway infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Katrina.  I-10, US 90 and other important local roads are the economic lifeline of the region and play a central role in the economy of the Gulf region.  The Department is bringing all its resources to bear to ensure that this region can get moving again.  

Ports and Waterways

The impact on the Gulf region’s port facilities as a result of Katrina has been significant but somewhat varied.  The two largest facilities are the Port of New Orleans, a major import and export point for bulk commodities like steel and coffee, and the Port of South Louisiana, the largest agricultural export facility in the United States.  The good news is that the Port of New Orleans has re-opened for business, and is currently operating at 30% of its normal capacity due to limited power, labor availability and some continuing navigational restrictions on the Lower Mississippi River.  The Port started handling commercial cargo on September 13 and expects to reach full capacity within six months.  Through the continued presence of the Department’s RRF ships and other on-the-ground support, we will help the Port of New Orleans restore its cargo handling capacity as quickly as possible. 

At the Port of South Louisiana, power has been restored to most of the large grain terminals, which are all operable, and through the good work of the U.S. Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and NOAA, the Lower Mississippi River appears ready to handle the surge of agricultural exports expected to begin within the next two weeks.  The timely reopening of these terminals was absolutely critical to our nation’s economy, and is a good example of how federal agencies have coordinated their efforts and worked closely with the private sector to restore key commercial entities that are putting citizens of the region back to work.

Other Gulf ports, while much smaller, do serve important markets.  Prior to Katrina, the Gulfport facility in Mississippi served as an important location for growing Central and South American trade.  Port Fourchon on the southern coast of Louisiana is a major storage and staging facility for oil imports and work on off-shore facilities.  Katrina shut both of these ports down.  With the assistance of generators, however, Port Fourchon is operating on a limited basis.  Gulfport’s physical damage was much more severe and will require close to total reconstruction, but the Department has offered its assistance – working along with other Federal partners – to help the port authority and state and local governments recreate a thriving port facility along the Mississippi coast.    

The Department’s Ready Reserve Force has proven to be an invaluable asset to the Gulf coast’s recovery efforts. The Maritime Administration manages the RRF program, whose primary function is to provide support for military operations. These vessels are typically used to support our military in times of crisis, and they have performed admirably in each phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  This, however, is the first time that a Secretary of Transportation has activated RRF vessels in support of a civilian mission.  As a result, we are working with FEMA and the Department of Defense to determine whether the mission of the Department’s RRF fleet should be explicitly changed to ensure the availability of these vessels in future disasters.  


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, significant numbers of evacuees need transportation services.  Furthermore, transit agencies serving the region experienced significant damage to their fleets and facilities.  The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA), for example, provided over 50 million transit trips per year prior to Hurricane Katrina’s arrival, and in the subsequent flooding had bus and rail vehicles destroyed.  Transit providers in the Gulfport-Biloxi area experienced similar effects.  Small transit agencies and non-profit providers serving the elderly and people with disabilities have seen demand for their services increase dramatically in the aftermath of Katrina.  Rural areas across the Gulf region have experienced an influx of evacuees, and small transit agencies and non-profit providers do not maintain excess operating capacity to meet these surge requirements. 

The Department has also provided support to the Gulf region’s urban transit agencies, especially those in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Gulfport-Biloxi, to restore public transportation services.  On September 16, the Department announced that it will allow transit agencies affected by the hurricane to make use of federal funds to buy supplies, repair equipment, or begin reconstruction without having to provide matching funds.  The local match, typically 20 percent, has been deferred for many communities in the disaster area or those that have been significantly impacted by the influx of evacuees. 

This has allowed federal dollars already designated for these areas to flow more quickly, and also permitted new grants to be awarded before local funds can be identified.  The Mississippi Department of Transportation became the first agency to benefit from this action as DOT gave 22 transit bus operators access to a total of $6.1 million in FY 2005 transit formula funds to buy new vehicles, pay salaries or provide other necessities that will facilitate the restoration of service.

The Department has also worked closely with the two largest transit agencies affected by Katrina –in New Orleans and Baton Rouge – to secure $47 million in FEMA Public Assistance Funds for emergency transit services.  These funds will give evacuees in Baton Rouge access to vital social services, jobs, and medical care, and help returning residents of New Orleans reclaim their city.  The Department will continue to work with FEMA to help provide emergency transportation services and restore local infrastructure.


As I mentioned earlier, the Department worked around the clock in the days after Katrina to ensure that the southeast did not experience a major fuel shortage that would have exacerbated the already devastating economic effects of this storm.   While everyone saw a spike in gasoline prices following the hurricane, the situation could have been much worse had the federal government not marshaled its resources so expeditiously.  Within four days of Katrina making landfall and with the Department’s engagement, the Colonial and Plantation pipelines were operating at 50 percent capacity.  About three days later, they were at 100 percent. Similarly, the Capline and the LOOP were operating at close to full capacity within a week after Katrina.

More recently, the Department has worked with Chevron to facilitate the use of its Pascagoula refinery to directly inject refined product into the major pipelines serving the southeast United States.  Tankers are now discharging their product into the pipeline system at the refinery.  The Department also facilitated product movement through other port facilities along the Gulf and mid-Atlantic.  Overall, 95 percent of the nation’s refining capacity was restored within ten days after Katrina hit, and we are once again seeing 100% flow of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel throughout the country. 


New Orleans is an important gateway for east-west freight rail traffic, and the railroads have made remarkable progress in clearing debris and repairing lines to restore limited service to the city.  In fact, all major railroads except CSX now have operational lines into New Orleans.  While some rail yards inside the New Orleans city area are still under water, interstate traffic is now moving through the city between Florida and states west of the Mississippi River.  About twenty short line railroads operate in the Katrina affected area, and a number of short lines had their track damaged, sustained water damage to rolling stock, or had debris strewn across their right-of-ways.

The CSX line between Pascagoula, Mississippi and New Orleans, a distance of 100 miles, was badly damaged during the storm.  Limited freight rail service has been restored to Mobile and CSX has reached Pascagoula, but the portion of the line between Pascagoula and New Orleans remains closed.  Two bridges and two miles of track sustained major damage between Pascagoula and Biloxi, and three major bridges and 27 miles of track were severely damaged between Bay St. Louis and Gentility Yard in New Orleans. CSX has indicated that it hopes to complete its repairs within six months, but is looking for any and all opportunities to accelerate that schedule.

Moving forward, the Department’s Federal Railroad Administration and the freight railroads will continue exchanging information on freight cars damaged by submersion to assure that they are properly inspected and repaired. Railroads are moving hazardous materials to secured areas and FRA is closely monitoring this process. 

Stewardship of Federal Resources

The third area I would like to discuss is the priority the Department has given the stewardship of the federal funds it will oversee in addressing the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery efforts in the Gulf region. I am mindful of the responsibility we have as stewards of these critical resources.   The American taxpayers deserve to know that each and every dollar dedicated to this tremendous effort is fully justified and properly accounted for every step of the way. 

With that in mind I took several actions in the aftermath of Katrina.  First, on Thursday, September 8th, I directed a Financial Oversight Working Group be created.  My Chief Financial Officer was to chair it and it was to include our senior financial experts from each of the Operating Administrations, a representative from the General Counsel’s office, and –importantly – the Inspector General.  I charged the group with ensuring that Hurricane Katrina spending is thoroughly documented and accounted for properly.  This group, consisting of Chief Financial Officers, Budget Officers, Financial Management Directors, attorneys and procurement specialists are meeting regularly to share information and provide updates on resource needs.  Additionally, I have asked our Inspector General to commit extraordinary resources both to assisting field responses throughout the Gulf States region and audits of expenditures.  I am pleased to see that the IG’s office is announcing a series of coordinated audits in coordination with my office.

It is ironic that Hurricane Katrina required the postponement of a September 12th meeting with the Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty and my senior Department Administrators and me.  The purpose of the meeting was to follow up on the Department of Transportation’s close cooperation with Mr. McNulty’s Procurement Fraud Working Group and a set of directives I had issued to my Department in June.  

Outside of DOT, we are working closely with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and with FEMA to ensure that our data tracking systems are consistent with those of our other Federal partners.  We have provided OMB with a detailed Hurricane Financial Stewardship Plan that explains for each major DOT program area the existing and additional internal controls that are being used to safeguard Federal funds.  We have also developed a detailed Procurement Control Plan for Hurricane Katrina oversight that is serving as a model for other Federal agencies.  We are including both of these plans as attachments to this written statement.


Let me conclude by saying that I am very proud of the work that the Department of Transportation has done to respond to Hurricane Katrina and assist citizens of the Gulf region begin their recovery.  Under very challenging circumstances the dedicated public servants of our Department have responded and in many cases went beyond their normal scope of duties.  There is no question that much is left to be done and we will continue to improve our emergency response capabilities, but I believe that we have made significant progress thus far and are on our way to ensuring that the Gulf region has a transportation system that will meet its long-term needs.




 [a1]Question:  Are these trucks publicly or privately owned?  What is the process that allows DOT to mobilize these trucks?  Please clarify

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