By Staff Sgt. Matthew Bates
Air Force Print News
BATON ROUGE, La. (09/04/2008) - In the wake of Hurricane Gustav, residents of Louisiana are slowly heading to their homes and beginning to pick up the pieces left by the storm. Nearly half the state is without power, many people are running out of money and more than 70,000 Louisianans are still living in shelters.
Yet, though large and powerful, the hurricane left behind only a minimal loss of life, a fact the U.S. Northern Command's leader said was due to the quick response by state and local officials. The general visited several locations in the state, touring emergency management control centers and talking to people working response issues.
"The important lesson to take away from this storm is how early decisions by leaders at the state and local level ensure very few citizens lose their lives," said Gen. Gene Renuart. "And saving lives is the number one priority when natural disasters occur."
In Louisiana, the governor and several city mayors declared mandatory evacuations days before Gustav made landfall. Buses, trains and airplanes all were used to help those without their owns means of transportation make it out safely.
When Gustav did hit the Gulf Coast, its powerful winds and torrential rain fell mainly on deserted cities and parishes. New Orleans alone reported 95 percent of its residents had evacuated.
"This was a model response," General Renuart said. "Federal, state, military and volunteer organizations all came together and made the mission happen."
Response efforts after the hurricane were just as impressive, he added. Within hours after the storm, emergency response teams were assessing the damage and submitting reports to control centers across Louisiana.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were able to quickly set up points of distribution, where food, water and other necessities were handed out to local populations.
National Guard crews also were quick to respond, clearing roads and providing security as soon as the storm passed. There are currently 12,000 National Guard troops in Louisiana, 5,000 of whom are from other states, such as Texas and Arkansas.
One of these units, the 225th Engineering Brigade of the Louisiana Army National Guard, secured and repaired the levies in New Orleans, a city that flooded when the same levies failed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
But not only was the minimal flooding contained, but more people were evacuated and fewer lives were lost. According to the general, the overall preparation and response to Gustav far outshined that of Katrina.
"There's really no comparison," General Renuart said. "We know more now and we've implemented better command and control and we have better communication and interaction between the Department of Defense and civic agencies at the federal and local levels."
It's this cooperation at all levels of government that made the planning and responding to Gustav so successful, he added.
"It's been a great effort on everyone's part," General Renuart said. "And it's important we take the lessons learned from this event and use them to continue to better our response capabilities."
And, as Tropical Storm Hannah and Hurricane Ike bear down on the East Coast, these capabilities may be tested again very soon. Still, General Renuart is confident the military and federal and state agencies are up to the task.
"Our way of thinking is to work for today, look to tomorrow and think about next week," he said.