He was the “John Wayne” of New Orleans, the “overnight hero” of Hurricane Katrina, and “exactly what the Gulf Coast needed,” to hear the newscasters tell it.
Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré was known for taking a no-nonsense leadership role in evacuating and securing New Orleans in the fall of 2005. He famously appeared on national television barking at soldiers to put down their weapons in the Crescent City and help a mother with her two small children. Iconic images of Honoré show him in his camouflage uniform with aviator sunglasses and a cigar between his teeth.
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was quoted in “Stars and Stripes,” the independent daily for the Armed Forces, saying Honoré came off “the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he’s getting some stuff done.”
After more than 37 years of service, a retired Honoré has turned from commander of a disaster area to a speaker and analyst. The Lakeland native has written two books on emergency preparedness and tours the nation giving speeches.
Honoré, 65, earned his bachelor’s degree from Southern University and a master’s at Troy State University.
During a recent talk with students at the LSU Manship School for Mass Communication, Honoré praised the efforts of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in managing the aftermath of “super storm” Hurricane Sandy.
“They did a good job of telling people to leave,” Honoré said.
But the sharp-tongued soldier said he was “about to go after (Bloomberg) until he decided to cancel the New York City Marathon. That would’ve been stupid to do the Marathon with people being evacuated.”
After reading several of the disaster preparation tips in his latest book, “How Being Prepared Can Keep You and Your Family Safe,” Honoré stressed the need to start a cultural shift in America by making residents ready for natural disasters.
“People can’t take risks and not be prepared for potential disasters because they think the government is going to come take care of them,” he said
Of the 1,800 deaths from Hurricane Katrina, the majority were the elderly, disabled and poor.
Although Sandy affected millions more people, there were just slightly more than 100 deaths attributed to it.
“By and large, people learned from Katrina,” Honoré said. “The people that could evacuate did evacuate.”