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A Veteran Of 2 Louisiana Disasters, One General Speaks Of Preparedness


The timing of the Baton Rouge flooding has many people on edge because it's so close to the 11-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. During that time, Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore led federal troops into New Orleans to organize rescue missions. Now he's a resident of Baton Rouge watching another recovery.

We reached him at Baton Rouge member station WRKF to get his perspective on how the state is coping with this latest disaster. He started by explaining how the response to this flood has been different than the response to a hurricane.

RUSSEL HONORE: Well, it's been an extended disaster, meaning, you know, the hurricane come in one day and is gone the next. As the flood waters - the 24-plus inches that fell over a couple of days - equally fell across the 20 or so parishes. That water that came from the north tried to make it's way south.

And over the years what has happened is we've put more and more subdivisions in there, and it has exposed more and more people in what had previously been considered to be wetlands that are now thriving subdivisions. And that has exacerbated the issues associated with this flood.

CHIDEYA: Was the city and the region prepared? And I mean that in a couple ways - one in terms of evacuation plans and supplies, but also flood insurance.

HONORE: Well, let's talk about the evacuation and search and rescue. I think the community did a superb job, as far as the governor in activation of his National Guard early, the collaboration between the sheriff departments and police departments throughout the region.

But I think the people who saved the day for us on Sunday was what we call affectionately the Cajun Navy. In the state of Louisiana, we are a state of boats. So we have an abundance of boat and boat operators. And, you know, Sunday they came out in big numbers, neighbors saving neighbors. With all due respect to the organized first responders - our fire and sheriff and fish and wildlife - the Cajun Navy stood up and, again, saved a lot of people's lives over the weekend.

CHIDEYA: But, you know, on the other front about insurance, only 1 in 8 people in East Baton Rouge Parish, from what I understand, have flood insurance, and people were not expecting this. I mean, how do you think that issue is going to affect the region over the long haul?

HONORE: Let me just tell you this. I moved here in 2009. I can see a levee from my house. I bought a substantial home in a nice subdivision. And as we were sitting there talking with the real estate people and the banker, I said, what about flood insurance? You know what they told me? You're not required to have it in this subdivision.

Look, I can see a levee from my house. We're going to have to do better urban planning. The Corps of Engineers are going to have to fess up and tell people if they live in a flood zone without any doubt about it, and people need to know what the risks are based on where they live.

CHIDEYA: So do you think the government has done enough?

HONORE: I think for the opening act, the search and rescue, yes, but we are still the second-poorest state. We're going to need some federal help. We have paid dearly in Louisiana for the prosperity of this nation. Much of the oil and gas that feeds the rich Northeast come out of these murky waters of Louisiana or travel through pipelines between Houston, Louisiana and the Northeast and the rest of the nation, so we are a major economic player.

But we, as a state, need the American people, as they have in the past, to be aware. And we're not quite sure if that story is out there yet, if people have seen it. Because of the way the evacuation went, we have not lost that many people as a result of flooding, but the damage to businesses and homes is equal, if not greater than, some of the hurricanes we've had.

CHIDEYA: That was Lieutenant General Russel Honore, and he joined us from member station WRKF in Baton Rouge. General Honore, thank you so much for your time.

HONORE: And thanks to the people of America. We need your help. Thank you, and we'll be there for you when you need us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.