On Monday, Sept. 1, at 9:30 a.m., Hurricane Gustav crashed into the town of Cocodrie and marched its way north through Baton Rouge and Alexandria, uprooting trees, knocking out electricity, destroying homes and flooding neighborhoods from Plaquemine Parish in the southeast all the way to Monroe in the north.
Ten days later Hurricane Ike traversed the Gulf headed for Texas. It was a Category 2 storm but Ike’s size was so immense, it drove a storm surge for two straight days onto our coast flooding homes from St. Bernard to Cameron.
Every storm brings wind and water but each storm also presents unique challenges. Katrina broke our levees. Rita razed whole communities.
Gustav ravaged our electrical power grid, knocking out electricity to over two-thirds of the state. And Ike flooded an entire coast, thousands of homes in towns like Houma, Lake Charles, Erath, and Franklin.
Each storm brought destruction and devastation, and each storm revealed the courage, compassion and resiliency of our people. Neighbors caring for neighbors, and strangers reaching out a hand to help those in need.
Although the national media praised Louisiana’s preparation and unprecedented evacuation for Gustav, it did not happen without unexpected challenges.
On Wednesday before Gustav’s landfall, I executed a contract for 700 buses to evacuate those with critical needs. Two days later the buses had not arrived. I ordered my staff to find school buses and I mobilized the National Guard to provide bus drivers. Within 48 hours the critical needy were evacuated to safety.
By Saturday night, out-of-state ambulances still had not arrived. After a sleepless night of phone calls and planning, Texas sent us six C130’s at daybreak, and aircraft from around the country began airlifting medical patients to safety.
Sorties flew every 30 minutes, and before tropical winds could ground the operation that evening, every medical patient was safely evacuated, ending the largest medical evacuation in our nation’s history.
Gustav’s winds left power outages that stranded citizens with no gas, food or water. When Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and other commodities did not arrive to Louisiana in time, we organized the faith-based community, restaurants and some of Louisiana’s world famous chefs to provide hundreds of thousands of hot meals to the hungry.
As power outages persisted, I authorized my Secretary of Natural Resources to buy generators for gas stations, pharmacies, and grocery stores, so communities without power could buy food, water, medication and gas for their vehicles.
In the coming weeks, you will hear the stories of heroes who built levees while storm waters rose, evacuated patients in the middle of the night, and risked safety to rescue the stranded. You will hear stories about first responders, members of the National Guard, pastors and everyday Louisianans who saved lives and cared for the hurting.
You will hear these stories and you will be proud of our state and proud of our people.
These storms hit us hard but when the water subsides and the debris is cleared, we will come back. Louisiana is a resilient state and we live in a generous country. We will help each other heal, we will help each other rebuild, and we will come back stronger than ever, because that is who we are and that is what we do.