They called it a forgotten disaster, but Hurricane Rita in 2005 was indeed a catastrophic storm for southwestern Louisiana. Many living through it felt that they were too quickly off the nation’s radar screen because of the huge and long-lasting effects of both storm surges and levee breaches in metropolitan New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina.
We can’t let Hurricane Laura recovery be forgotten in southwestern parishes this time.
The good thing about following Hurricane Katrina was that the loss of life from September’s Rita was minimal compared to the more than 1,800 people who died, mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi, from the August storm.
That’s because people got the message for Rita. Gov. Kathleen Blanco underlined the urgency of evacuation ahead of the storm, by saying that people sticking it out should write their Social Security numbers on their arms, to identify the bodies. Gruesome but it worked.
Washington got the message, too, as the federal government’s preparations for Rita had greater urgency after the embarrassment of Michael Brown’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As Hurricane Laura is still in progress, Louisiana should make a pledge that the giant storm’s victims, whether in loss of life or property, will not be forgotten in the shade of current events.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a serious impact, limiting numbers on buses leaving the threatened cities and towns, and limiting shelters, too. Hotels were already sanitizing rooms for regular guests but with a downturn in vacation travel this year could house more folks forced to leave their homes.
Today’s leadership, state and national, has tried to work around those kind of virus-related problems. We hope and pray today that enough has been done, although in disasters, there’s almost always something that doesn’t get accomplished, or couldn’t get to victims in time. The loss of life appears to be small, so far, from Laura, rated the most powerful storm to strike Louisiana in more than a century.
One thing is particularly ironic: That just weeks before the advent of this week's extraordinary storm, the president by executive order allowed some disaster money set aside in the budget to be used to fill a gap in federal unemployment benefits.
That was caused by gridlock in Congress and is an indictment of Capitol Hill and its hyperpartisan ways. We thought that was bad after Katrina and Rita? It’s certainly worse now.
While we don’t think that shortages have occurred so far in the Laura response because of funding, recovery — as we learned 15 years ago — is a long and hard road. The state’s leadership must appeal to that of the nation for help in this extraordinary year of different disasters.
Above all, we can’t allow the victims of Laura to feel, or be, forgotten in our response.