As most of you know, Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane when the storm came ashore between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, off the coast of mainland Texas near Corpus Christi. The landfall as a cat 4 hurricane came just one day after Harvey was upgraded to a cat 2 storm, and approximately eight hours after Harvey was upgraded to a category 3 storm. This may not mean much to those of you living inland and not accustomed to watching the Atlantic and Gulf six months out of the year, but for those that live on the coast, especially the Gulf Coast, the timing of the strengthening of this storm made an inherently bad situation even worse. Here is why…
Unlike tornadoes, hurricanes generally offer plenty of time for preparation and you usually have a pretty good idea of the strength at which it will make landfall in time to make your decision as to whether it is safe to ride it out or if you need to evacuate. Most people living on the coast will make preparations (including plans for a hurricane party) and ride out a cat 2 storm, many will choose to ride out a cat 3, especially if their home is equipped with a generator. However, not many people will choose to, particularly those who have done so before, stay and ride out a category 4 storm. Harvey offered mixed signals making the decision-making process of officials and residents much more difficult. But Harvey did not stop there, rather than passing through, Harvey decided to hang out for a while dropping incomprehensible amounts of rain on the already saturated ground and five days later continues to devastate the area.
Having spent my life on the coast, many years on the Gulf Coast, and having been through numerous hurricanes up to and including a category 4, my heart goes out to all of those effected by this tragedy. Because it is a tragedy, and can be a very traumatic experience, we in no way want to politicize this disaster, however, there are a couple of issues, both good and bad, that it seems appropriate to touch on while the nation is watching this disaster unfold and the magnitude of the loss to each individual affected as well as the communities as a whole.
Let’s start with the good. In the midst of all of the division within our nation right now, it is so encouraging to hear the stories of Americans coming together to help Texans. Individuals, companies, organizations, and numerous state governments are standing in line and pledging funds and support to assist Texas. That is the America I know and love, while we may have our disagreements, most of us, are able to set them aside and come together for the common good of the nation. The radical fringe groups are still out there causing problems and rioting, but mainstream America, the often silent majority in this country, is setting aside their differences, praying and focusing on assisting the people of Texas. The humanity, courage, and generosity of the average American is shining through and above the violent, radical fringe groups that seek only to tear our nation apart.
Due to the swift action of Governor Abbott of Texas, and a prompt response from President Trump, FEMA and other federal agencies were on the ground and in the air in Texas to provide assistance with rescue and recovery efforts as early as Sunday. Here is where I am going to bring up some of the politics of crisis management and disaster relief. The Stafford Act outlines the process by which a presidential disaster declaration or an emergency declaration triggers financial and physical assistance from the federal government. It is what gives FEMA authority to coordinate relief efforts. The Federal Response Plan includes assistance from 28 federal agencies and non-governmental organizations. Both the Governor of Texas and President Trump acted to bring as much assistance as possible, as quickly as possible, to the people who so desperately need it.
The purpose of bringing this issue up is the blame game played post Katrina, and efforts of the left to blame the slow response on then President Bush. What we do not hear from the media and the left is that within four days of Katrina’s landfall (prior to landfall) President George W. Bush signed a $10.4 billion aid package and ordered 7,200 National Guard troops to the region, and shortly there after requested an additional $51.8 billion in aid. We also do not hear much about the fact that the mayor of New Orleans at the time, Ray Nagin, did not issue an evacuation order for the city, a highly populated city much of which is below sea level, until less than 24 hours before Katrina hit. Nagin declared the Superdome, as a “shelter of last resort” for people who could not leave the city. Nearly 80 percent of the city’s population was able to evacuate, approximately 10,000 sought shelter in the Superdome. Although New Orleans’ comprehensive emergency plan (required by the Stafford Act) stated it will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas, and that special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves, the plan was not followed. City buses were not sent to evacuate those who could not make it out on their own. Keep in mind, about 20% of the population of New Orleans did not own a vehicle and was dependent upon public transportation. Furthering this problem, prior to the storm, Amtrak, while moving equipment out of the city, had room for several hundred evacuees that they offered to the city, however, city officials declined and the train left with no passengers on board. Yes, I believe many lives could have been saved had Mayor Nagin issued the evacuation order earlier, sent City buses to assist residents in getting out of their homes, and accepted the assistance offered by Amtrak to evacuate several hundred residents from the city.
Then of course were the accusations that the only reason people in the Panhandle of Florida received assistance so quickly when Ivan hit was because Florida’s governor was the President’s brother. No, Florida had a plan that was executed properly. Looting was also a major problem in the aftermath of Katrina, there were even videos circulating of law enforcement officers that were caught in the act of looting businesses in New Orleans. Plans were not followed, offers for assistance in getting residents out of the city were declined, and the law was not enforced. Although there have been some reports of looting from Houston, officials are responding, there are mandatory jail sentences for anyone taking advantage of this crisis and law enforcement are out there doing their jobs arresting at least fourteen looters so far. Bottom line, local officials in Texas have been and are doing their job to assist residents in need and keep order in their cities. None of this happened before, during, or in the aftermath of Katrina.
Hurricanes present numerous problems, high winds, storm surge, tremendous rainfall, and tornadoes. In stronger storms residents who choose to stay, or stay because no evacuation order, whether voluntary or mandatory, was ordered are more often than not cut off from help. No power, no phones (cellular or landlines), no water, no fuel to be found to try to leave if streets are navigable. It can certainly be a traumatic experience, and the level of devastation in some areas of Texas is yet unknown due to continuing rain and flood waters that have not yet receded. Our prayers are with the residents of Texas, and their elected officials who are doing all they can to take care of their people and their cities. We are all Americans, our neighbors in Texas are in need, it is in times like this that America shines and comes together as one people. Please keep Texas in your prayers, and if you can, send your donations of requested necessities and/or money to agencies providing assistance to those in need. God bless America, and the compassion of the American people.