Tag Archives: Hurricane Katrina

‘Real disaster’ struck Texas … no kidding!

Texas emergency officials have reported that Hurricane Harvey has killed 88 people.

Eight-eight families have lost loved ones. They are grieving to this day. Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast twice, first as a Category 3 hurricane and then as a tropical storm.

Watching the storm’s savagery from afar, I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it constitutes a “major disaster.” The hurricane blasted the Coastal Bend region with killer winds and storm surge. The tropical storm deluged Houston and the Golden Triangle with unprecedented rainfall: 50 inches in one 24-hour span of time, a record for the continental United States of America.

Harvey hit us real hard

I want to mention this because of something that Donald John Trump Sr. told our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. He seemed to chide them because — at the time of his visit — “only” 16 people had been killed by Hurricane Maria, which destroyed the island’s power grid and its potable water supply.

Yet, the president seemed to suggest that Puerto Rico was “fortunate” to have suffered so little loss of life, unlike what happened to New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore.

Well, I guess I ought to remind the president that the Texas coast didn’t suffer the amount of deaths that other storms have brought, but he dare not dismiss the damage from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle as anything short of a major disaster.

Houston, we have a development problem

There will be time — in due course — to start thinking seriously about the future of a city that’s been devastated by Mother Nature’s awesome power.

It is beginning already, though.

Houston is still bailing out and digging out from impact of Hurricane Harvey. Residents remain displaced. Many thousands of Houstonians are grieving and wondering where they go from here, what they’ll do to rebuild their shattered lives.

Meanwhile, city officials have begun to start asking: What have we done to exacerbate this tragedy?

Houston is known as a city with limited urban planning guidelines. Over many years the city has quite willingly paved over grasslands and wetlands with pavement. They’ve built highways and bridges, paved streets, laid down parking lots, erected skyscrapers. Residential neighborhoods have sprung up where alligators once swam.

The result of all that has helped produced what we’ve witnessed in recent days. Indeed, Harvey’s savagery isn’t the first such incident to bedevil Houston. Hurricanes Ike and Rita, anyone? Hurricanes Carla and Alicia? Yes, we remember those events, too.

What does Houston do? How does the city cope with the potential for future disaster? I fear it’s too late. The city isn’t going to bust up the asphalt. It’s not going to knock down those buildings and bridges. It won’t shoo away the millions of residents who have flocked to the city.

I suppose the city is now left to ponder ways to control more tightly developers’ designs on future construction. I remember some discussion after Hurricane Katrina laid siege to New Orleans in August 2005 about how the city should rebuild whole neighborhoods washed away. There was some talk of turning former Ninth Ward neighborhoods into wetlands and relocating the residents who fled the storm’s fury.

Houston might need to ponder a similar response to recovering from the damage and destruction delivered by Hurricane Harvey.

A word of caution: Don’t dawdle, Houston. The changing climate might well produce another killer storm soon. I don’t need to remind our friends along the Gulf Coast — but I will anyway — that we are now entering the peak of the 2017 hurricane season.

Let’s cut Mayor Turner some slack, eh?

Imagine being in Sylvester Turner’s shoes … for just a moment or two.

You are the mayor of Houston, the fourth-largest American city. A killer storm is bearing down on you and your constituents, not to mention millions of other residents living nearby.

Do you order a mass evacuation, remembering what happened the last time a mayor issued such a call in your city? Or do you hope the storm might miss your city and then hope your city’s emergency response teams can react accordingly?

Mayor Turner has been getting a lot of grief of late from those who believe he should have shooed residents out of his city in the path of Hurricane Harvey.

I’m trying to give the mayor the benefit of the doubt.

Houston resident Kam Franklin, writing in Texas Monthly, has explained why she believes the mayor made the right call.

Read her article here.

Franklin recalls heading north on jammed-up freeways in 2005 as Hurricane Rita was drawing a bead on Houston. Rita was the second act in that terrible Gulf Coast twin-bill drama that featured the tragedy and devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina to the greater New Orleans area a month earlier.

The evacuation order didn’t go well as residents sought to flee Rita’s wrath. Franklin tells a story of horrific traffic jams (see the picture attached to this post) that kept people on highways for many more hours than was necessary.

She has no tolerance for those who live far from Houston but who think they know how to respond in the face of pending disaster.

As Franklin declares: “It’s very easy to judge people who are in a situation you’ve never been in. Right now isn’t the time to argue over who said what and when, because we’re still in the middle of this. Unless you’re here trying to help people, I don’t think you should be preaching about it. I’m know I’m going to try to help the best I can.”

This story just keeps getting better

Consider this item to be the “gift that keeps on giving.”

It involves a teenage girl from Mississippi and a U.S. Air Force pararescue jumper who became acquainted at a time of intense national tragedy: Hurricane Katrina.

LaShay Brown was struggling to escape Katrina’s wrath in New Orleans in September 2005. Airman Michael Maroney rescued her from the torrent. The picture of them embracing after the rescue went viral.

They reconnected a decade or so later. They have remained BFFs ever since that reunion.

LaShay is now 14 years of age; Maroney is set to retire from the Air Force. But they have a date to keep. LaShay has invited the man who saved her life to her junior ROTC ball in Waveland, Miss., where she now lives with her family.

Maroney says LaShay saved his life too. Her embrace of him that day meant the world to the young airman.

Emergencies often build lifetime friendships

The above link is of a blog I posted in 2015 of the two getting reconnected. It warmed my heart then to read of the initial rescue and of Maroney’s efforts to catch up with the little girl he pulled from Katrina’s wrath.

The idea that he now would be the girl’s “date” at an ROTC ball warms my ticker even more.

“I am proud of her no matter what she does and will support her in everything she does,” Maroney says. “I think she understands service and I believe that she will do great things no matter what she chooses.”

Hearing of this upcoming event makes my day.

President ought to take a look at the flood damage

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I am one of those who believes Barack Obama should take day away from his vacation to do something quite presidential.

He ought to take a jet ride south from Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., to tour the flood damage of Louisiana. He ought to spend just a bit of time talking to local residents, local officials, state officials and his Homeland Security staff to get an up-close look at Mother Nature’s fury.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he’d rather have the president wait before going there.

Look, this isn’t written into the president’s job description. It’s understood, though, that when Americans are hurting their head of state sometimes gets called upon to offer personal words of comfort, love and support.

A historic flood, to my mind, counts as one of those times.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post makes an interesting argument that the president famously doesn’t always do things just because they look right.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/08/18/heres-why-president-obama-isnt-stopping-his-vacation-to-visit-the-louisiana-flooding/

I get that, too.

However, this president did join the amen chorus of critics in 2005 when President Bush staged that noted flyover during in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which wiped out much of New Orleans. The critics all said Bush needed to set foot on the ground and the flyover became something of a symbol of alleged presidential nonchalance about the suffering that befell one of America’s great cities.

Cillizza writes: “Presidents don’t get vacations — they just get a change of scenery,” Nancy Reagan famously told critics of her husband’s regular trips to the family’s ranch. Work, especially in this digital age, follows you around.

I get that, too.

Presidents, though, assume the role of “comforter in chief.” Obama has performed that role masterfully many times during his two terms in office. Whether he’s embraced family members of those slain in spasms of violence or gone to natural disaster sites — such as when he went to the Jersey Shore after Super Storm Sandy devastated that region — he’s been there.

Some folks in Louisiana need comforting right now.

Heat: It’s all relative

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The dog days of summer have arrived a bit earlier than usual on the Texas High Plains.

We’ve been simmering in 100 or near-100-degree weather for several days now. How’s it going with my fellow Panhandle residents? Not too well, based on some of the social media postings I have been reading of late.

Pardon me for snickering … just a bit. I promise I’ll be discreet. I won’t guffaw out loud.

Still, I must remind my many friends here just how bad it could be during this time of year. We could be living on the Texas Gulf Coast, where my family and I lived for nearly 11 years before my wife and I skedaddled to the High Plains in January 1995. Our sons were in college and were on their own.

I now shall inflict a brief version of a story I’ve told many times about life in what I call The Swamp.

It was around 1989. I was working in my yard. The temperature outside that summer day was just this side of 100 degrees.

The humidity? About the same. High 90s. I’m telling you, there’s nothing quite like the Gulf Coast heat/humidity combo that makes one appreciate cooler places and cooler times of the year. Our many friends who live between Beaumont and Corpus Christi know of which I speak.

I stopped working in my yard and went inside the house. I announced to my wife, “We’re going to the beach!” So, we gathered up our beach gear, threw it into our Honda Civic and peeled out for the coast.

We raced through Mid-Jefferson County then turned east, across the Sabine River that borders Texas and Louisiana and headed for our favorite spot on the coast.

Holly Beach, La., beckoned us. Hurricane Katrina and later Hurricane Rita in 2005 wiped out what passed for the “resort” there. On this day, though, it awaited us.

We drove our Honda onto the beach, we got out and raced to the water.

I plunged into the surf — and came up immediately and ran back out onto the sand! Why? The water was as stinkin’ hot as the ambient air. That’s why!

There was no refreshment to be found in the Gulf of Mexico that day.

OK, we stayed for the rest of the day. We rented inner tubes and lolled around in the surf. Why go back home when we’d made the effort to find some comfort in that oppressive heat?

The moral of the story?

Suck it up, my Panhandle neighbors and remember: It’s a dry heat.

Hutchison came to region’s aid

Kay

BEAUMONT, Texas — A news story in the Beaumont Enterprise brings to mind a memory I have about a former U.S. senator who came to the aid of a region that had been struck by what’s been called “the forgotten hurricane.”

It was nearly a decade ago when the Gulf Coast, which was reeling from what had occurred in August 2005 in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore, suffered another killer storm.

Its name was Rita and it slammed into the coast at Sabine Pass, which borders Texas and Louisiana. It roared inland and tore into Beaumont.

City, county and state officials were having trouble getting the feds’ attention. Then came Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, who managed to parlay her good relations with Senate Democrats to fast-track aid to the region that had been walloped by Mother Nature’s fury.

As the Enterprise reported today: “I’ll never forget what Sen. Hutchison and her staff did for us, as a community,” said former Jefferson County Judge Carl Griffith. “(Hutchison) made a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives.”

What she did was work with Louisiana U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, to obtain military aircraft to aid in evacuation and the delivery of supplies to the region. Other efforts to get the White House — where Republican President George W. Bush lived at the time — had fallen short.

Hutchison’s work made the difference.

Hutchison came through

Indeed, my memory of her familiarity with this part of Texas is quite vivid. I had the honor during my nearly 11 years working at the Enterprise to interview Sen. Hutchison as she would come by to, um, chat and to update us on senatorial goings-on.

And almost always, without fail, Hutchison would remind me of how she spent time visiting extended family members living in Old Town, a noted residential district in Beaumont.

She knew the region and wasn’t about to let bureaucratic bumbling stand in the way of relief for the home folks.

Nor was Hutchison going to waste the political capital she had piled up with her friends across the aisle.

Bruce Drury, a retired political science professor at Lamar University — who I knew fairly well while I worked in Southeast Texas — said that Hutchison’s ability to cross party lines is not nearly as evident with today’s Texas congressional delegation. “We have two Republican senators, neither one of whom have attempted to cultivate goodwill with the administration,” Drury told the Enterprise, adding that “to some extent the administration hasn’t been overly active in trying to establish links.”

As the former senator demonstrated, it’s nice to know people in the right places.

 

Emergencies often build lifetime friendships

airman

This picture speaks volumes to me, and I’m sure it does to others.

The young man is Michael Maroney, who in 2005 was serving as an Air Force pararescue jumper.

The little girl is LaShay Brown. She’s hugging Maroney’s neck because the jumper had just saved LaShay and her family from Hurricane Katrina’s savage onslaught in New Orleans.

A decade later, Maroney and LaShay have hooked up again. He found the girl who’s now a teenager living in Mississippi.

“I was a single father trying to raise two boys. I had just gotten back from Afghanistan, and New Orleans was under water,” Maroney, now 40, told The Washington Post. “When she hugged me, everything went away. There were no problems in that moment. That meant everything to me.”

Little girl hugs with joy

As it should.

These are the kinds of stories that have been told and retold in the decade since the Katrina disaster. President Obama went to New Orleans this past week to salute the city’s return. Former President Bush went there as well to pay his tribute to the strength of the residents who endured nature’s wrath.

Yes, we have talked in recent days about some of the failures of government at all levels to do right by those who suffered.

But an Air Force serviceman, Michael Maroney, did his part to deliver a little girl and her family from the storm. “I can’t wait to meet her to tell her how important she is,” Maroney told People magazine. “In my line of work, it doesn’t usually turn out happily. This hug, this moment, was like — everybody I’ve ever saved, that was the thank you.”

They have become friends for life.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

 

Texas stood tall in time of tragedy

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Ten years after the fact, Texans perhaps should take stock of a time when our state stood tall as our neighbors fled a savage onslaught.

Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 Louisiana residents and drove many thousands more than that from their homes. And of those thousands who were displaced, many of them came to Texas.

Most found refuge downstate. Some came to the High Plains.

As Erica Greider writes in her Texas Monthly blog, the manner in which Texas responded to the crisis provided the state with one of its shining moments.

Greider writes: “… Texas’s response to Katrina has to count as one of our state’s finest moments. We saw real leadership from people like Rick Perry, then the governor, and Bill White, then the mayor of Houston, among many others, and real graciousness on the part of millions of Texans, who welcomed so many neighbors at their time of need. I’d like to think that’s who we are. And I’d like to think it’s a good reminder for us today, since 10 years later we have the flaring tempers and frayed nerves without the proximate cause of a historic natural disaster: when people work together, progress is possible.”

Here’s the blog post

Amarillo responded well during that time. We set up emergency quarters for the residents who came here. We gave them shelter, food, medical care, counseling services and placement advice as they sought to collect themselves after having their lives shattered by the storm’s wrath.

It’s good that we don’t have to respond in such a fashion all that often. But when we do, it’s also good to know we are able and willing to answer the call for help.

 

 

Hunt for Katrina survivor comes up empty

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Emma appears to have moved on.

I hope she’s happy and healthy.

Word came from City Hall earlier this week that my search for a woman I met 10 years ago here in Amarillo after Hurricane Katrina devastated her home town of New Orleans has come up empty.

She and more than 100 other refugees from the devastation of the storm fled to the High Plains. Several communities welcomed them. They lived for a time in makeshift quarters assembled at the Amarillo Civic Center, which had been turned into a refugee center.

The Amarillo Public Health Department and the city’s Emergency Services Department had mobilized quite efficiently to accept the individuals — and the families — that sought to escape the devastation brought to the Gulf Coast in August 2005.

They set up health clinics, providing medicine and immunization. Counselors were available to talk to the refugees who were coping with the enormous emotional shock of what they were enduring.

From my recollection of the events as they were unfolding, the city response represented one of its finer moments.

None of those storm refugees remained.

The city reportedly had 48 clients registered through it Community Development office, but all of them, according to the city, appear to be “inactive.”

Perhaps it was her heart that was talking when Emma agreed to meet with me shortly upon arriving in Amarillo. She said she had intended to stay here. She was going to give up her life in the Big Easy and settle, perhaps, for a quieter existence way up yonder here on the Caprock.

She had plenty to say a decade ago about the incompetence of the emergency response in New Orleans. She blamed everyone — local, state and federal authorities — for the confusion and mayhem that ensued as residents struggled to cope with the loss of homes, not to mention the loss of loved ones.

Emma was fortunate in one important aspect: No one in her family died from the storm.

My hope was to find her and to visit with her yet again, to assess how she’s coped.

I’ll put my faith in the belief that she’s doing fine and that the city she called home, if only for a brief time — Amarillo — helped Emma find her way to a new life.