WASHINGTON – The nation's disaster response agency said Monday that evacuation buses and truckloads of food, water and ice were standing by for the year's first big tropical storm. But state officials across the Gulf Coast hadn't asked for any immediate help from Washington.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency did not stockpile supplies for Florida because the state "has indicated that they have the situation well under control," said FEMA spokesman Aaron Walker. But he said buses and supplies were ready should Tropical Storm Alberto take a nasty turn into regions still left vulnerable by Hurricane Katrina, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Florida emergency director Craig Fugate said state and local responders "were managing to keep an even keel here." Any federal help — like damage assessments and reimbursements — might be needed after the storm passed, he said.
"We're not in a situation where we need any federal assistance for the response phase," Fugate told The Associated Press. "We're looking at the federal impact after the storm if it would warrant any assistance financially."
However, FEMA officials were monitoring the storm from Florida's emergency operations center in Tallahassee. The agency also put its regional response coordination office in Atlanta on alert, and ordered its Washington headquarters to be staffed around the clock to answer any incoming calls for aid.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose department oversees FEMA, postponed a weeklong trip to Europe to monitor the storm, said spokesman Russ Knocke. Chertoff also called Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to offer help, but the Republican governor said his state did not have any immediate needs from Washington.
Similarly, the governors of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have not asked for any federal assistance. But FEMA dispatched 96 truckloads of food, ice and water to holding points in Selma, Ala., and Montgomery, Ala., ready to go to disaster areas in those three states if needed, Walker said.
Additionally, 50 buses and 100 drivers were standing by in Carville, La., to help evacuate potential victims, he said.
Despite lessening concerns about Lake Okeechobee's levees, Army Corps spokeswoman Nanciann Regalado said the agency stockpiled 35,000 tons of concrete, stone and sandbags and ordered another 65,000 tons delivered. However, lake levels were still six feet below where levees might be expected to crack, Regalado said.
The Coast Guard also is warning at-sea mariners and boaters to stay away from coastal waters. Officials are reviewing plans to move aircraft at the region's air stations inland and out of the way of storm.
So far there have been no active duty deployments for Alberto through U.S. Northern Command, which oversees military units in the United States.
"There will be minimal or no need for active duty forces because the state of Florida, its first responders, and its state militia are well prepared to assist citizens of Florida," said Northern Command spokesman Michael Kucharek.
The command has asked the military services to be prepared to respond and provide needed supplies, equipment or the use of Defense Department installations.