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Mistakes after Katrina caused much delay, despair, and suffering. They also revealed lessons that have improved FEMA’s disaster response. Joplin provides more learning material. If successful disaster recovery relies upon having good people in power, many if not most municipalities will fare much worse in the event of a catastrophe than Joplin has so far. We have a government of laws, not men. The good men and women of Joplin have pushed those laws to promote recovery, but in the absence of such people, and especially in the absence of improved laws, victims of future disasters are more likely to be saddled with something closer to the Katrina recovery.
Micklethwaite went through the tornado not just as president of Joplin’s school board but also as a resident of her hometown, to which she returned 20 years ago. She describes her neighborhood as “closed” before the tornado; after the storm, she did laundry in a neighbor’s house while hers was being repaired, and people on her street held group meetings in the cul-de-sac to discuss rebuilding. “We joke about it being group therapy,” she says. “We just keep moving forward.”
Tate Watkins is a 2012 Phillips Foundation fellow and a former reason intern. He lives in Port-au-Prince.