A Hurricane Tale of Two Governors

Three years ago, south Louisiana was in complete disarray. As Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, people were dying, politicians were bewildered, and police were abandoning their posts. It was mass confusion in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina swamped the city and the levees were breached in multiple places. Flood waters engulfed over 80% of New Orleans and, eventually, 1,600 people lost their lives.  Looting was rampant in New Orleans and chaos reigned over the Crescent City.

At the time, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco was overwhelmed and offered desperate state citizens emotion, tears and no leadership. She obviously was not equipped to deal with Katrina, and her lack of confidence made a bad situation worse for panicked residents of South Louisiana.

The Democrat Blanco eventually blamed the Republican administration of George W. Bush for her troubles. She implied that the White House was trying to shift responsibility to her administration for the storm problems. In reality, there were problems on the local, state and federal levels. Every branch of government made mistakes and contributed to the disaster.

For Hurricane Katrina, the evacuation was not successful, as more than 100,000 remained in the danger zone of New Orleans. Scores of buses that could have been used for evacuation were flooded by storm waters and became inoperable. Emergency agencies were not able to communicate with each other and there was confusion everywhere. The person in charge of local and state recovery, Governor Kathleen Blanco, refused to allow President Bush to assume control of the National Guard. By the time that significant federal resources reached New Orleans, it was already a horrific disaster.

Fast forward three years, and it was a much different story for Hurricane Gustav. In 2003, voters rejected Bobby Jindal in favor of Blanco. Yet, mostly due to disgust with the poor response to Katrina, Louisiana voters elected Republican Governor Bobby Jindal in 2007. To say that he was ready for this hurricane is an understatement.

A week before Gustav hit Louisiana, Jindal began holding press conferences warning residents of the dangers and cautioning them to keep abreast of the storm. The governor mobilized scores of state resources that were available for hurricane assistance. Every emergency agency of state and local government was in sync and working closely together. Jindal was in constant contact with Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and FEMA Director David Paulison, who both came to Louisiana to help coordinate federal response to the storm.

With Jindal taking the lead, local and parish governments issued orderly evacuations. By the time the hurricane neared the Gulf of Mexico, the evacuation plans were implemented. Residents were taken out of the state by an intricate network of buses, trains and airplanes. A huge contingent of National Guard was mobilized and no instances of looting were reported. The result is that only 7 people died and over two million people safely left the area.

Luckily, Hurricane Gustav was not as intense as Katrina, but the state government was ready for any contingency. Louisiana should feel proud of our state government as our leadership shined.

Unlike the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, the response to this storm was a textbook example of how state government can work together with other agencies to save lives. It all depends on a competent leader who is not afraid to make decisions and utilize resources.

Jindal deserves credit for his expert handling of this crisis. Louisiana voters deserve credit for electing Jindal last fall and correcting the mistake that was made in 2003. It shows once again that elections do matter, as the right political decisions can literally save lives.