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Members Find Ways to Help in Louisiana, Mississippi

With search and rescue missions in full force today and news out of Louisiana and Mississippi growing worse in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Congressional delegates from both states focused on saving as many lives as possible, even as their own homes were likely destroyed and their families uprooted.

“The Congressman has been out and about on a Boston Whaler in Hancock County seeing if anyone needs any help,” said Courtney Littig, spokeswoman for Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.). “Things aren’t looking good there in Mississippi, I could hear it in the Congressman’s voice.”

According to Littig, Taylor siphoned 150 gallons of diesel fuel off one of his boats and went out on another smaller one with an outboard engine, along with his son, to assist in the search and rescue effort. Both Taylor’s home in Bay St. Louis, Miss., and his childhood home right next door are now underwater.

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), who has visited several Louisiana towns in the past few days, headed to the mouth of Bayou LaFourche on the Gulf of Mexico, where he met with Port Fourchon Director Ted Falgout. The port, usually responsible for managing one-fourth of all hydrocarbons entering the United States, is now entirely non-functional.

“This underscores the potentially dire impact this hurricane could have on the United States’ economy,” said Melancon’s chief of staff, Casey O’Shea. “The Congressman is working with the Coast Guard and energy power companies to restore power at the port as quickly as possible and to remove oil vessels that are currently stuck.”

Melancon’s home in New Orleans was likely destroyed, but that cannot be confirmed as no one will be allowed back into the city for some time.

There is also no way for Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) to be certain about the fate of his home, a few miles outside of New Orleans in Kenner, La. Nevertheless, Jindal “has been touring shelters, meeting with evacuees and offering comfort if he can provide it,” spokesman Chris Poalino said. “He knows something about how they feel because he’s going through the same thing himself right now.”

It was confirmed earlier today that the waterfront home of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) in Pascagoula, Miss., was also destroyed.

Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) was back in Washington, D.C., today to work on setting up an aid telethon through BET, as well as to field calls from concerned constituents looking for their loved ones, but he plans to return to his home district Thursday, according to his spokeswoman Melanie Roussell. Jefferson’s home is also located in New Orleans.

Despite the complexity of communicating under current circumstances, the entire Louisiana Congressional delegation collaborated on a letter sent Tuesday to President Bush asking him to extend FEMA’s 100 percent federal funding deadline for emergency assistance and to continue it at his discretion.

Under current law, FEMA is approved to provide federally funded emergency aid for 72 hours, after which point affected states are responsible for matching a portion of the provided funds. But The Robert Stafford Act ensures that this aid is not limited to 72 hours and “provides discretion for the amount of federal funding to be provided,” the Louisiana delegation’s letter states.

A similar waiver has been granted on numerous occasions in the past, most recently for Florida after a tropical storm and four different hurricanes struck in 2004.

When asked about similar relief extension plans for the Mississippi Congressional delegation, Taylor spokeswoman Courtney Littig said that communications are currently too problematic for the delegates to coordinate in such an effort, but that one would surely be forthcoming.

The offices of most of the Louisiana and Mississippi Congressmen have spent much of their time the past two days attempting to account for all of their staff working in the affected states, but again, power outages and downed phone lines have been a major obstacle to their efforts. Those staffers who have been accounted for are working on setting up temporary offices to provide support on the ground.

“We’re looking for some trailors to work out of for the time being, and we put in a request for some second-hand laptops,” Littig said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to set up close to FEMA and co-opt their electricity.”