Houston Chronicle Sunday
Houston showed the world its big heart by welcoming residents displaced by the hurricane.
The city opened storm shelters and embraced displaced people with open arms.
IN2001, Houston Chronicle science writer Eric Berger attended an American Meteorological Society meeting and first heard the startlingly dire endgame for New Orleans if a major hurricane ever struck. Atrained astronomer with a master’s degree in journalism, Berger started researching the gradual “sinking” of New Orleans. His frightening story appeared in the Chronicle on Dec. 1, 2001; he didn’t pull any punches. “In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city’s less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill 1 of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water,” Berger wrote. “Thousands of refugees could land in Houston. Economically, the toll would be shattering. … The Big Easy might never recover.”
Four years later, as Katrina, a rapidly intensifying Category 3 hurricane, drew a bead on New Orleans, Berger, at home in Houston, feared that his bleak sinkhole scenario was about to become a reality. Awall of water was about to hammer New Orleans’ seawalls and levee systems. “I knew that New Orleans dodged a bullet with Ivan in 2004,” he recalled thinking as Katrina’s menacing radar track appeared on his television screen on Aug. 29, 2005. “They were lucky to survive a direct hit for as long as they did. And — although it’s unfathomable — in the city proper, they had established no Hurricane Command Center for police and city officials to cope with what was going to be a certain future reality, they had no communication network established in advance. Go figure.”
At the time Katrina struck land, an urban rivalry had existed between New Orleans and Houston over which city was the real capital of the Gulf South. Many Louisianans disparaged Houston as being too rich and cultureless. Acommonrefrain in New Orleans was that Houston took energy sector jobs, gouged natural resources and stole port business. But, as history would have it, when Katrina slammed into the Big Easy it was Houston — more than any other community — that heroically came to New Orleans’ rescue by opening storm shelters and embracing displaced people with open arms.
For the most part, leading Texas politicians performed remarkably well. Once the hurricane winds died down that August, then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana held extensive telephone conversations with thenGov. Rick Perry of Texas searching for evacuation buses. All of New Orleans’ yellow school buses had drowned. Blanco’s immediate problem was finding a place to send the 30,000 people left at the storm-damaged Superdome and at least twice that many who were stranded in other venues in and around New Orleans.
Houston offers respite
Perry was a fifth-generation Texan, a rancher from Abilene who was elected Democratic state legislator in 1985, later making the jump to the GOP. In 1999, George W. Bush was running for governor and Perry sought the lieutenant governor’s seat. WhenBush left Texas to move into the White House in January 2001, Perry took over the governorship. Atrueblue fiscal conservative, Perry reached out to officials in Texas’ biggest cities finding financial support in all of them for bruised-and-battered New Orleans. His willing ally in Houston was Mayor Bill White, a Harvard-educated attorney who had spent most of career
Courage Award “in recognition of his political courage in leading a compassionate and effective government response” to Hurricane Katrina.
In fact, Judge Eckles is quoted as saying, “… the few weeks that the Astrodome sheltered so many people in need was a defining time for Houston. … Katrina was probably its finest moment.” I couldn’t agree more. So, as mayor of NewOrleans and on behalf of all NewOrleanians — past and present — thank you to the people and city of Houston for your generosity and sacrifice during our time of dire need.
Thank you for opening your church doors to welcome souls in need of nourishment.
Thank you to the schools that made extra room for our children.
Thank you for your donations, support and prayers when we needed them most.
We are eternally grateful. Our recovery was made possible because of cities like Houston.
Looking back over the last 10 years, NewOrleans’ comeback is nothing short of miraculous. It is one of our nation’s most remarkable stories of tragedy and triumph, resurrection and redemption. In one word: resilience.
Even as some continue to deal with the effects of Katrina and the federal levee failure, there are new challenges that confront us — climate change and rising sea levels, land subsidence and coastal erosion, and lack of equity and opportunity for all NewOrleanians to grow and thrive. For our city, being resilient means more than levees holding back water and wetlands protecting us from storms; it means striking a balance between human needs and the environment that sur- rounds us while also combating the chronic stresses of violence, poverty and inequality. Wehave a responsibility to get it right and set the city on a more just and sustainable path for generations to come. This is our mission.
But this much is clear: New Orleans is on a roll. Wehave gone from literally underwater to being one of the fastest-growing major cities in America, with thou- sands of new jobs, new industries, rapidly improving schools, rising property values and $14.5 billion spent on 133 perimeter miles of reinforced flood protections, including the world’s largest storm surge barrier and the world’s largest pumpstation of its kind.
Now, 75 percent of NewOrleanians feel the recovery is going in the right direction and 78 percent are optimistic about the future of our region — the highest percentages since the storm. However, each new accomplishment and milestone is bittersweet when we think about that close friend, neighbor or family member whohas not moved back home to share in these celebratory moments. So, as mayor of New Orleans, I am officially inviting all those whowere forced to leave by Hurricane Katrina to come back to NewOrleans. We miss you and would love to welcome you home.
I know many New Orleanians whoare now proud Houstonians, and that’s terrific. Houston is a great American city and a great place to raise a family. Just know that should you ever make the decision to come back home, we will welcome you in the only way we know how: with love, fellowship, great music and a big pot of gumbo.