Archive for Sunday, September 7, 2008

Kansans assist with Gustav recovery

September 7, 2008

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— Under cloudy skies Saturday, a steady stream of vehicles queued through distribution lines as residents received food and water from Kansas National Guard soldiers.

"You have know idea how much we appreciate you people," said Lee Mullen, driving with friend Rita Richardson. They munched on honeybuns as they picked up their supplies.

And unlike three years ago when Gov. Katherine Blanco was criticized for her response to Katrina, the two were pleased this time around with response to Gustav.

"Bobby Jindal has been an absolute saint through this entire thing," Mullen said.

Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, Kansas' adjutant general, traveled to Louisiana on Saturday to visit with the 600 Kansas soldiers in the state and see the work they were doing and what may be on the horizon.

"Virtually every work station I went to, if they have a split screen or TV on, there's that image of Ike sitting there," Bunting said.

He had briefings from Louisiana and FEMA officials who said the damage to the state's electricity grid could take a month to repair. Another storm could complicate that.

"We know what they are going through," said Bunting, noting that Kansas frequently has ice, snow and tornadoes in the same week or month. "We're an all-in unit. We'll stay as long as the governor and adjutant general needs us."

Across southern Louisiana and in the heart of New Orleans, residents were already worrying about a powerful Ike heading their way.

"If you look at the cone they show, it's coming right for us. They've been pretty close lately," one man shouted as he exited the line.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin toured a distribution site and said more residents are getting their power back by the hour. Residents are coming back by the thousands, and he met a large group that came back by train from Memphis.

Kansas sent 600 National Guard soldiers who were scattered throughout the state, handing out commodities, assisting with communications and helping dispatch the more than 10,000 National Guard soldiers from Louisiana and 21 other states.

It was familiar territory for many of the soldiers who responded in 2005 to Katrina. That storm was more concentrated in damage around New Orleans and Bay St. Louis, Miss., while Gustav surprised officials in its direction and wide wind field. This time, Kansas also sent a high-tech communications vehicle that was first used in May 2007 in Greensburg for that tornado. It was parked outside a former garment factory on Saturday in Port Barre.

At the 35th Infantry Division's operations near Baton Rouge, computers were already tracking Ike and looking at plans for starting the whole evacuation and recovery process over.

Many arrived when Gustav was still blowing earlier in the week. Their orders were for 15 days, meaning they could feel the brunt of Ike. They will go where state and federal officials ask.

"It's what FEMA and the emergency management in that particular parish has determined is needed in that area," said Lt. Col. Tony Mohatt of the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion from Kansas. "We are getting a lot of really good will from the folks here."

Bunting said the Kansas soldiers weren't looking for praise for helping, though it's nice to hear.

"I think that's basically all anybody wants. They want to do something meaningful. If they say thanks, that's fine. We're good with that," he said.

In the Lower 9th Ward, an area devastated by Katrina in 2005, Joye Gordon of Kansas State University was surveying residents as they picked up supplies. Gordon is a Louisiana native and was conducting the survey to assess the flow of information leading up to the storm. A white poster board had "Gustav" taped over Katrina. Gordon's done this before.

Gordon wants 300 responses to get a valid sample, but she won't be hanging around for Ike.

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