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Missouri disaster response committee starts work next week
A committee formed to assess the state's ongoing disaster recovery efforts will hold its first meeting next week.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau will lead the Interim Committee on Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery formed by state House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville. Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, was also appointed to serve on the review committee, which will meet Tuesday at Missouri Southern University in Joplin and Wednesday in St. Louis. Meetings in the southeast and northeast parts of the state and Jefferson City will be scheduled in August.
"Last year was a very difficult year for Missouri," Kinder said in an emailed statement. "The devastating tornado that hit Joplin May 22, multiple storms and flooding on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers were a massive challenge. We now have an opportunity to review how everyone involved -- from local services to the various state and federal agencies -- responded to that challenge."
While reviewing the damage from last year's storms and flooding, it would be hard to ignore the ongoing drought that led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare all 114 Missouri counties as primary disaster areas last week. Southeast Missouri has been hardest hit, with much of the area falling into the "extreme" drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. There is only one category worse, "exceptional" drought.
"I've never seen anything like this, and I've lived in Mississippi County for 50 years," Hodges said. "We've got people who have already turned over their corn because there was just nothing on it."
Many of these same farmers had up to 20 feet of water after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intentionally breached the Birds Point levee in Mississippi County last May.
"The main focus is on the events of last year, but going through this there's no way we can possibly ignore the drought that is hitting us this year," said Jeremy Cady, chief of staff for committee vice chairman Shane Schoeller, R-Springfield. Cady is scheduling the public meetings for the committee.
During the meetings held around the state, the committee will take testimony from those affected by recent disasters, Cady said.
"We want to hear from the general public first, but also businesses and business organizations and then government entities," he said.
The committee is charged with submitting a report of its findings and recommendations no later than Dec. 31.
"Through these public hearings, we hope to assess how well private and government agencies and individuals plan for and respond to disasters, which will help us improve the state's level of preparedness and our response efforts in the future," Kinder said.
Hodges said he's looking forward to working with the committee, having served on a similar one formed last summer to evaluate the damage statewide.
"We'll go back and say, 'OK, this happened. This is the way we handled it. Now, what have we done since that time? Are we doing what we need to do?'" he said.
Jefferson City, MO