Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, as organizer Alicia Garza, right, looks on during an event with Supermajority in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

Buttigieg unveils disaster relief plan in hurricane-hit city

September 17, 2019 - 5:23 pm

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday visited a South Carolina city ravaged by hurricanes twice in three years and pledged to improve the government response to disasters as part of an effort to combat storm damage that he says is the result of climate change.

In Conway, Buttigieg detailed his plans for a disaster commission to help coordinate efforts between federal agencies and the communities affected by disasters. Buttigieg said the commission would be tasked with streamlining data collection, in part to lessen burdens on those affected by disasters.

The city of 23,000 residents in northeastern South Carolina sustained record flooding that followed last year's Hurricane Florence. That storm damaged more than 1,500 homes, caused $24 billion in damage and led to 53 deaths in the state. Hurricane Matthew wracked Conway in 2016, causing flooding surpassed only by Florence. A 1,000-year flood also devastated many other parts of South Carolina.

Buttigieg's trip to Conway was part of a two-day visit to South Carolina, which will hold the first Southern primary next year. It's an important trip for the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has struggled to win support from black voters, who are critical to winning the Democratic contest here.

He spent part of the day in Columbia participating in a roundtable with Supermajority, a women's advocacy group headed by former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards that stopped in South Carolina as part of a cross-country bus tour. Organizers said subsequent stops feature events with other 2020 Democratic candidates, including former Obama Housing Secretary Julián Castro and Sens. Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.

Buttigieg fielded questions from a room of several dozen women, pledging his commitment to listening to women's concerns, as well as creating and enforcing policies on issues including pay equity and reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

"I'm here because women are ... more than half of this country," Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg's disaster relief plan also included increasing the number of Federal Emergency Management Agency-qualified disaster workers. Other proposals include catastrophic weather insurance and protections for FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund. Some of the $271 million being moved by the Department of Homeland Security to increase the number of beds for detained immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border comes from FEMA's response funding.

His planned commission would aim to make it easier for survivors to access funding to help them rebuild, including a permanent block grant program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The problems, Buttigieg wrote in his plan, are made worse by climate change, with catastrophic weather "increasing in frequency, intensity, and impact." Building on his $1.1 trillion climate change proposals, Buttigieg said his administration would explore public-private partnerships for disaster response, like using drone technology to survey storm damage.

On Monday, Buttigieg participated in the Galivants Ferry Stump, which organizers say is the oldest traditional campaign speaking event in the country. He was also scheduled to hold a town hall meeting at the University of South Carolina before traveling to Kentucky.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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