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Many officials have said that Hurricane Sandy caused more damage than any other hurricane in the history of the country, except for Katrina. Edward Blakely served as the Executive Director of Recovery Management for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated that city. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider sat down with Blakely to discuss how Sandy compares with Katrina. With Katrina, the area that was impacted covered a much wider area in terms of damage, says Blakely. “Here you had just the coast line for the most part, some inland areas. But the depth of the damage here was great because of the facilities: Wall Street etc., New Jersey coast. Very expensive places were hit,” said Blakely But that’s not the only difference between the hurricanes, especially with regard to the federal response. Blakely says the federal effort in 2005 was paralyzed whereas the recent federal response to Sandy was really on target. On a local level, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was heavily criticized at the time for a failure of leadership. “You have governors here who are very strong,” he said. “The political leadership was prepared better. The administrative leadership was prepared better, and that’s not taking anything away from the people in Louisiana.”

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Katrina may have served as a valuable wake-up call for the country in how to respond to a disaster of that scale. Blakely says the tri-state area benefited significantly from that harsh lesson. “The political leadership here took lessons from Katrina and performed very well as a result.” While he praised the response after Sandy hit, he says there were things that could have been done better prior to the storm. “One of them was the evacuation was hit-miss as we all know. Some people didn’t leave, other people did leave and so forth. We did that very well in New Orleans. People really got out. Now a lot of people were killed, but people really got out. The contraflow worked and so on. This seemed a little less organized with contraflows, directions, the time you leave, the timing of departures, and the survival locations. Schools and things like that were not ready to receive the people they received.” As New Jersey begins to rebuild its shore communities, Blakely says the state will have to first determine how they are going to be used, whether as recreation space or for residential purposes. “If it’s going to be the place where people’s homes are, then you have to start thinking about maybe those homes might be moved, raised up, you can raise up entire neighborhoods and that could be done here,” he said. “Then, you have to think about … what kind of infrastructure are we going to have? I think this is the time, which we talk about undergrounding, about hardening that infrastructure, about decentralizing the infrastructure.” Blakely echoed the sentiment of many who have said that shore towns cannot rebuild homes in the original manner. “We all learn things from these adventures that you have to raise the buildings up, or raise the entire area up, and things like this. Your homes will look pretty much the same, but you’re safer and it’s better for everyone in the outcome.” President Obama has asked Congress for $60 billion in Sandy relief money. Blakely says that states and local governments will have to bear some of the relief costs. “The government never repairs everything because think about this — this infrastructure is used for 50, 60, 80 years — so the government can’t give you a 100percent return. The same if your car was three years old. They’re not going to give the same money as if it’s brand new,” he explained. The fact that Sandy was a tri-state disaster is important to recovery efforts, according to Blakely. “What are the tri-state things we can do together along the coast line? The second thing we’re going to have to start thinking about is how are we going to organize this infrastructure, again, across the state line … How can we do that better together, particularly the transportation? And the third thing we have to think about is what kind of regional, I hate to use the word, tax … will have to take place to make us better prepared for the next time.”