The story should be familiar by now. A major hurricane strikes the Gulf Coast. The president pledges aid. Web sites announce how victims can get relief. But the aid doesn’t materialize. The White House is indifferent. FEMA, the much-maligned Federal Emergency Management Agency, is incompetent. Stricken cities and their residents are left to wonder how they will recover, whether life will ever be the same.
As everybody knows, this is the story of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. But few know, or care, that it is also the story of Hurricane Rita and southeast Texas. Nine months after the storm swept ashore just east of the Texas-Louisiana border, crossed the Sabine River near Port Arthur, and cut a swath of devastation deep into the Piney Woods, this high-unemployment, low-income region has received minimal help from the federal government—not for small businesses, many of which remain closed; not for local governments, which are still waiting to be reimbursed for the costs of evacuations and cleanups; and not for residents, many of whom live in substandard dwellings beset with leaky roofs and mold. When Congress passed a $29 billion supplemental appropriations bill in December, it allocated more than $11.5 billion for relief from hurricane damage. Some $6.2 billion went to Louisiana. Another $5 billion went to Mississippi. Texas’ share was $74.5 million. And