Politics right now can often seem like a constant exercise in juvenile behavior, so it’s heartening when elected officials act like grown-ups.
That was largely the case across south Louisiana these past few days, as most government leaders took prudent steps to prepare communities for a hurricane that turned out to be not nearly as bad as expected. A glaring exception was Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa, who stayed at a convention in Las Vegas as Hurricane Barry arrived.
From west to east, as forecasters struggled to make sense of Barry’s ultimate direction and impact, most of those in charge set the right tone. Lafayette Parish-President Joel Robideaux, Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell quickly mobilized agencies in the region’s major cities to answer the threat and urged residents to prepare for the bad weather, with officials in smaller communities generally following a similar script. Gov. John Bel Edwards did the same at the state level, which isn’t surprising given his experience with previous disasters such as the Great Flood of 2016.
In light of Barry’s relatively weak showing, did officials over-react in their warnings and preparations? We think not. With the best information from expert sources, officials moved calmly but diligently to help protect life and property.
Even in its reduced form, Barry still caused localized flooding, significant power outages, traffic accidents, and damage to homes from downed trees. Those realities underscore the wisdom of taking even smaller storms seriously. If residents had ignored public warnings, the consequences could have been much worse.
The preparations for Barry should also help local governments and the citizens they serve be ready for the next storm, which is no small thing given the continuing challenges of hurricane season. The season doesn’t officially conclude until the end of November, so the prospect of another big storm coming Louisiana’s way can’t be ruled out.
The anxiety in advance of Barry was palpable in Louisiana, and for good reason. Memories of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav are still vivid, as well as the inundation that plagued the capital area in 2016. Flooding in New Orleans just a few days ago from a small but intense rainstorm underlined what Mother Nature can do.
Katrina prompted big changes in how local, state and federal agencies prepare for potential disasters. Many of the lessons from the grim days of 2005 have been institutionalized, and that’s evident in the emergency operations centers that state and local agencies establish to coordinate response and recovery — protocols that appear to stay in place even as elected leaders come and go.
That kind of continuity is critical given Louisiana’s ongoing vulnerability to bad weather. In the meantime, let’s breathe a sigh of relief that Barry didn’t pack a bigger punch.