Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall across the Louisiana/Mississippi border. I know many of you are suffering from Katrina fatigue. I don’t blame you. But I think it’s important to remind people of just how valuable the marine industry was to the people of Louisiana and Mississippi following the catastrophe — that’s what it was — a catastrophe.
Let’s start with the U.S. Coast Guard. Estimates say that about 60,000 people were rescued from rooftops and flooded homes following the storm. Of that number, the USCG rescued more than 33,000, including more than 9,400 medical patients. Coast Guard personnel from every district in the U.S. — more than 5,600 — participated. I know people, friends and family, who were “brought out” by the Coast Guard. Incredible. The Coast Guard was just doing its job, it said, but those who were rescued will never look at the Coast Guard as ordinary in any way. You have to go through it to understand, so they tell me.
The rest were rescued by agencies like the Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries and what’s known today as First Responders — local, county, parish and state police, firefighters and others. Literally an army moved in to save those that Katrina had left for dead. Amazing.
On the Mississippi River, tugs, towboats, rescue vessels from surrounding port authorities — even passenger vessels — moved out to clear debris from the river and find people who were waiting — desperate — to be rescued.
In area hospitals, medical personnel watched in horror and frustration as patients died while rescuers fought to get through. Death was everywhere. Heroism was too.
The question being asked today is whether New Orleans is prepared for another Katrina. As someone who was close to the destruction left in Katrina’s wake, I can tell you that no one can be prepared for it. However, the levee system is stronger. In 2012, Hurricane Isaac came ashore in New Orleans. Though is was only a Category 1 cyclone (Katrina was a strong Category 3) its storm surge was greater than Katrina’s because just as Isaac approached the coast, a high pressure system formed to the north and kept the storm from pushing inland. Consequently it just kept, hour after hour, building up water out in front of it. The levees held.
Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans this week announced that it has built up a “navy” of small boats of its own, so that hospital personnel don’t have to be dependent on others when flooding threatens its patients. The hospital is running a series of incident response drills this week and will do so on a regular basis going forward.
So, what do you say to people who saved so many lives? Thanks? That just doesn’t seem to be enough. Maybe to say that we know what you did and we won’t forget. There really are no words.