Gustav inspired dread, not panic
We've been here before. And the watching and waiting as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Louisiana coast is brought on some of the same emotions as did Katrina's approach. Some - but not all. Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of New...
We've been here before.
And the watching and waiting as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Louisiana coast is brought on some of the same emotions as did Katrina's approach.
Some - but not all. Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans on Saturday night, two days before Gustav's expected landfall. In 2005, that order didn't happen until 10 a.m. the day before Katrina struck - and the traffic jams and chaos that resulted added to the growing sense among observers that a cataclysm was on its way.
That sense had been building for days back in 2005; it was as close as the Weather Channel and updates on cable news. Unfortunately, the only people in America who seemed not to hear that news occupied high positions in local, state and national government.
Whole books have been written about the bungling of the Katrina effort, which started with poor planning and got ever more obvious after the hurricane struck.
Who can forget Michael Brown, the Federal Emergency Management Agency director of "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" fame, telling CNN that he was unaware that evacuees in New Orleans were being housed in the Superdome - even though news outlets had been covering events live at the overcrowded stadium for more than a day?
Thankfully, the situation was very different today. Federal, state and local officials, including Nagin and President Bush, seemed to have learned their lesson. The federal government prepositioned both personnel and supplies; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had the state's National Guard at the ready, and Nagin's evacuation order quickly got New Orleans residents on the move. More than 2 million left the city.
In fact, residents had started to evacuate even before Nagin gave the order, a sign that beleaguered New Orleanians have learned their lesson, too.
And this time around, traffic was heavy but not chaotic. Also, New Orleans vowed not to repeat its nightmarish 2005 experience with the Superdome, which wasn't at all equipped to handle the thousands who took shelter there.
This time around, no such "last resort" shelter was offered. Residents were instructed to simply leave town: "For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you," Nagin said.
"That will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life."
All of this adds up to the fact that while Gustav was downgraded into a giant storm, the Gulf Coast was much better prepared. It shouldn't have taken a Katrina-sized disaster for officials to learn these lessons. Indeed, the Bush administration's poor performance pulled the president's approval ratings down into a steady decline, and he still hasn't recovered from the drop.
But at least the lessons were at last learned.
GRAND FORKS HERALD