Former FEMA director and Fourth District Democratic Congressional candidate James Lee Witt suggested that grant money for safe rooms become more commonplace to help guard against the loss of life seen in killer storms like the tornado that ripped through Mayflower and Vilonia last Sunday.
Witt, who has more than four decades of experience in disaster management through his public and private career, oversaw 360 presidentially-declared disaster areas during his eight years at the Federal Emergency Management Agency during Bill Clinton’s tenure in the White House.
“What just breaks your heart is the people who’ve worked all their life for what they have and it’s just gone,” Witt said of the devastation he’s seen in the disaster areas he’s worked.
He said currently FEMA officials are working with locals affected by the tornado to determine if their insurance needs supplemental help, such as temporary housing. Witt also said that cities and counties will need assistance from the federal government to help with debris removal and monitoring public health and safety issues.
Witt said he has seen communities rebuild “better and safer” in the aftermath of tragedies. He pointed to efforts of Oklahoma City officials who worked with FEMA to create a grant program to build “safe rooms” in houses after an F5 tornado demolished parts of that city in 1999.
“I think they should look at this. We built 6,000 safe rooms,” said Witt, who said hundreds if not thousands of lives may have been saved in subsequent storms that have tunneled through the region.
The cost to build a safe room can be in the $2,500-$3,500 range, he said.
“I’ll never forget,” Witt said, recalling the Oklahoma City tornado. “There was one house that had built a safe room and that was all that was standing on that slab.”
You can watch his full interview below.