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August 20th, 2008
07:21 PM ET

Honoré on NOLA: So much to be done

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/20/art.honore.jpg]
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...

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Rahni, Connecticut

    What I found quite amazing and sad, our government couldn’t locate New Orleans on the United States map so therefore, many people had suffered and died in and around the Superdome. I cried when I saw many poor and suffering people who couldn’t leave because they didn’t have the means to get out of Katrina way. Because majority of the people at the Superdome were African-American, our government – Bush Administration decided to look another way from these poor people who didn’t have the means to get out. And you people out there still want to vote for McCain to carry over the Bush Administration legacy due to these people were poor and African-American, you should be a shame of yourselves.

    Remember! The country of Georgia received aids from our country within days and Katrina victim received aids from our country several weeks!! And they were not refugees but American born citizens.

    Vote for change – Don’t be afraid of “Change” Obama for President!

    Rahni, Connecticut

    August 21, 2008 at 8:55 am |
  2. William Courtland North43ºWest93º

    Superengines and the mega-engines could still pull freight even through a mass amount of water.

    Mega-engines, if engineered for, would emergencies overtake and command and span across two divided tracks and come equiped with medical facilities or travel as carrying massive tools likened to cranes and excavation cutters.

    August 20, 2008 at 10:06 pm |
  3. Gina - Missouri

    I hope Americans learn from the slow response to Katrina and do not elect a Bush clone – McCain to lead our country. We need a President who thinks of the poor and middle class for a change.

    Obama '08

    August 20, 2008 at 9:53 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    General Honore was one of the good things that came our of Katrina. He genuinely cared about what the people were going through and getting the city and the people back to a normal life. Even now that he's retired he's still working on Katrina when he could have just walked away and said "I've done my time". His dedication to the task is inspiring. And I'm sure his work will save countless lives if the hurricanes come at NOLA again.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 20, 2008 at 9:51 pm |
  5. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    I hope we never forget what happened during Katrina. Three years later have we learned how to never repeat the terrible mistakes made? At the end of the day, the Gulf Coast still needs our help and we can't forget that what happened there could happen to any of us anywhere at anytime.

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    August 20, 2008 at 8:53 pm |
  6. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    Isn't it amazing that relief efforts from the US arrived overseas to Georgia faster than relief efforts arrived to the victims of Katrina? Nice job Bush............For all of you that think McCain is the right choice need to re-examine things. A Republican care about poor people? Get a grip people. It isn't gonna happen. Enough of the GOP White Houses.

    Obama 08

    August 20, 2008 at 8:23 pm |
  7. Sharon from Indy

    David:
    Lt. General Honore is polite. I believe he was furious when he stepped out at the Superdome.

    General....thank you for remembering those faces....may America always be haunted by "those faces" so the next tragedy of this scale will not be ignored so blatantly by the White House.

    August 20, 2008 at 7:43 pm |