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Friday, August 28, 2015

Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

I was attending a meeting in St. Louis as Hurricane Katrina came to shore.  It was close to a year after my retirement from USDA.  As news reports came in, I thought that perhaps some of my experience could be put to use in Louisiana.  I sent a resume to FEMA and I had a phone interview shortly.  It took until almost Thanksgiving before I heard from them again.  I left for Orlando the day after Thanksgiving to report for mustering in and training.  After a week of 11 hour days training in Florida we reported to Baton Rouge.  I spent most of my time inventorying properties that had repetitive claims for flood insurance.  I went all over Louisiana and saw a lot of devastation everywhere.  The second picture below, sums it up.  A house sitting on a pickup truck in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans.  Tom Brokaw reported from in front of that house a year later.  The mess was still being cleaned up.

The people of Louisiana were very nice to me.  I made the acquaintance of Rodger in the third picture down and we worked together many days.  I still hear from him from time to time.  I worked 6 days a week 12 hours a day until Christmas.  After Christmas, We did 11 hour days and got Saturday afternoons off.  I stayed in Port Allen across the river from Baton Rouge after Christmas.  The people below also became friends and even invited me to their superbowl party.  I was also able to celebrate Mardi Gras season in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  Despite news reports to the contrary, I never met anyone who treated me badly.

It is gratifying to see the ten year anniversary reports on television showing how well the area has recovered.  I am proud to have been a small part of that effort.

Why did we need to save New Orleans?  It is an area that is very important to commerce and agriculture.  A large portion of our agricultural exports go through New Orleans.  A large part of a our petroleum imports come through New Orleans.  The port of New Orleans extends up the Mississippi River as far as Baton Rouge.  There are 47 refineries located in the area.  If we did not restore New Orleans, we would have needed to build a new port and all that infrastructure somewhere else.  A new city would like not have been any safer from hurricanes than New Orleans, and would have been much more expensive.

Having lived through the flood of 1993 on the Mississippi River, I saw first hand what it takes to recover from a major disaster.  Some people asked me how long I thought it would take to recover in Louisiana.  I told them that it would take at least 5 years until you could look around and say, "It looks like we are recovering."  I said it would take 10 years until things really felt "normal" again, but it would be a new normal.  I am sure that 10 years later we can still find damage, but it is good that the people are back and that commerce continues to move in Louisiana.

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