(CNN) – As President Barack Obama heads to Oklahoma on Sunday for a firsthand look at the miles of debris left by last week’s tornado, the state’s governor says her chief request for the federal government is help plowing through regulatory hurdles.
“Basically what I need is the ability to get through red tape, the ability to get the FEMA funds in here quickly and to get the services that our citizens need to help them recover through this terrible disaster,” Gov. Mary Fallin said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Last week, an EF5 tornado - the strongest possible designation - tore through Moore, Oklahoma, leaving 24 people dead and miles of destroyed homes and businesses. Top federal disaster officials traveled to Oklahoma in the immediate aftermath of the storm, including Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary.
Fallin, a Republican, said she appreciated those visits, and said the initial reaction from the federal government in assisting her state was fast and effective.
“So far we have had great response,” she said, quickly adding there was a long way to go before Moore returns to normal.
“This is a massive debris field. It's not just a couple blocks. It's miles. It's 17 miles long, almost a mile and a half wide. So it's not just a little area. There's a lot to be done here. A lot of businesses are closed, a lot of people without jobs just because their businesses are closed,” Fallin told chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.
Other elected officials whose regions have suffered natural disasters advised Fallin to be realistic with Oklahomans as they rebuild their community, noting the process for obtaining federal funds is dotted with rules and regulations.
“Your expectations are always greater than what is delivered immediately,” said Melodee Colbert-Kean, the mayor of Joplin, Missouri, which was slammed by an EF5 tornado two years ago.
“Your first thought is to make sure your citizens are OK and get your city back on track. However, you do have to go through the proper procedures that the government has outlaid for FEMA. You do have to follow those guidelines. And sometimes it can be frustrating, but the key thing is to communicate with your citizens.”
Rep. Michael Grimm, R-New York, said the recovery of his storm-ravaged Staten Island district was still only half complete, more than six months after Superstorm Sandy blew through.
“It certainly is taking too long,” he said. “That's why I would say it's going to be very difficult for the governor to manage expectations, because you think the cavalry’s coming. And it's going to take a long time just because there is a bureaucracy that even during extreme times is very difficult to cut through.”