Viewpoint: Borne in a crossfire hurricane
By Kim Solomon, River Falls
Part of the Rolling Stones' lyric to their Jumping Jack Flash song says it best: "... born in a cross-fire hurricane and I howled at the morning driving rain..." The Gulf States alliance was born in the fury of Katrina and came to maturity when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. Three states form the alliance, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and this is the story of what happened and why it's important to all of us.
When Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, most of the Louisiana National Guard was out of the country on deployment to the Middle East. Consequently, the ability of Louisiana to respond to the horrific damage caused by Katrina was severely limited. In an attempt to help, President George W. Bush sent regular army troops from the 10th Mountain Division from their New York base down to New Orleans. That's when news accounts tend to differ from those of people living in the area. Suffice it to say, everyone seems to agree that some very bad things happened. People were forcibly removed at gunpoint from the the safety of their undamaged homes along the long curved ridge that gave New Orleans its nickname, the Crescent City. Firearms and personal possessions were confiscated and never returned to their owners. People were put onto buses and shipped to other states without any way to return home. Innocent people died at the hands of frightened police officers on Danziger Bridge. And way too many people disappeared into the flood water never to be found because a "preserve and protect" force was sent in instead of one whose mission was rescue.
That's when something incredible happened. The Coast Guard, understaffed and overwhelmed, began to pull people from rooftops that were quickly going under water, but there were too many people and the water was rising too fast. Then the boats began to arrive. Personal motor boats. Flat bottomed bateaus. Shrimp boats. Even little rowboats started showing up from surrounding communities. "Ma'am, y'all need any help?" was shouted as the little boats went everywhere. "Sir, y'all want to leave?"
Families crowded into the boats with the clothes on their backs, their kids and pets held tightly. And so many who would have died were saved by the little boats. And the "Cajun navy" was born.
Then the National Guard arrived. Not Louisiana's Guard. They came from Texas and Mississippi at the order of their governors. And more people were saved.
That's when the three Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi formalized their mutual aid and defense pact to help each other respond to and recover from natural disasters and other emergencies. Who better to help rescue their citizens than people already living nearby? Especially ones who also understood the local sensitivity and complexity of introducing northern troops into a deep south state?
Then some time went by and it was Texas's turn. Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, causing over $100 billion in damages and covering much of the area with flood water. Perhaps you heard it on the news. The volunteers of the Cajun navy went in and the little boats rescued people again. Law enforcement from Louisiana and Mississippi also volunteered to help Texas officials. And the National Guard, between all three states, had ample resources for dealing with the Houston emergency.
There is a necessary and proper role for our federal government to help out in emergencies. However, the people of an area and the states affected have something that outside help can never bring to the party. Neighbors. Do you know who yours are? Do they know you?