David M. Reisner
AC360° Digital Producer
Nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated their city, President Bush spoke to people in New Orleans today. Among his guests at the ceremony was Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, known best for serving as commander of ‘Joint Task Force Katrina.’ He was responsible for coordinating military relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina-affected areas across the Gulf Coast. Now retired, he spends much of his time in the region, and works to prepare families for future natural disasters.
I caught up with the general as he was traveling from his Georgia home to the ceremony this morning. Our conversation covered as much ground as the general did, and we will share with you parts of that conversation over the next several days, leading up to the 3rd Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. We started by talking about today’s event:
So where will the President be commemorating the 3rd anniversary of Katrina?
We're headed to ‘Jackson Barracks’, home of the Louisiana National Guard. Their equipment was stored there prior to Katrina, and unbeknownst to them, when the levees burst, it flooded the equipment. So the equipment the National Guard was depending on to help rescue people in New Orleans ended up 12 feet underwater.
Would this be your first time back to Jackson Barracks since Katrina?I was in Jackson barracks about 3 months ago. I went through for a tour. Many of the buildings were about 80% complete. So I imagine all those buildings are complete now, but it has taken that long, 3 years, with full resources. That’s how long it can take even when you are fully resourced to do a significant project. So when folks say ‘well, we don’t have all the schools back online or we have fire stations that are not completed...’ its going to take time to get a lot of this stuff done.
What are looking to hear from the President today?
The president is coming to make a visit and to tell folks that federal money is still coming, and to highlight some of the success of what has happened as a result of those federal funds, in terms of refurbishing schools, levees, repair and reinforcement as well as help putting clinics back at critical locations.
But there is much to be done in the city of New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. That too is the focus of his Gulf Coast visit. The actual anniversary will happen right smack in the middle of a Democratic Convention. So I think it is a good thing that we are having this visit from president now – where he can speak to the nation and give them an assessment to the people of the Gulf coast, of where he thinks we've come, and what’s left to be done.
What will you say to the president today, almost 3 years later?
Normally what I get to say to him: 'hello Mr. President, thanks for inviting me."
Its’ good that he’s back. Some will say, ‘why didn’t he come on the anniversary?’... Well it doesn’t always work out that way. There are a lot of things going on in the world as we speak and I’m happy he could find it in his time to stop in during this period at the height of hurricane season.
When you look back to 3 years ago – when your boots first hit the ground – what images stay with you to this day?
All those people standing around the Superdome. When you are looking into the eyes of the poor… people with expectations that you're going to get them out… people demonstrating enormous patience in some pretty horrific conditions; bad sanitation, intense heat. They were traumatized.
I will always remember those faces...
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