Before hurricane Katrina made landfall, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana appears to have been more focused on securing federal funds for post-hurricane relief than ensuring that necessary troops were deployed to carry search and rescue missions, deliver food and water, and protect the citizens of Louisiana against marauding street thugs.
President Bush had offered the governor federal aid, including additional troops. He declared Louisiana a disaster area before Katrina arrived. To the dismay of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, the governor told the president she wanted 24 hours to decide whether to accept the offer because Mr. Bush, as commander-in-chief, wanted control of the troops. Many of the governor’s constituents died because of the delay.
On her Internet Web site, Mrs. Blanco displays her letter to Mr. Bush dated Aug. 28, in which she requests various forms of federal funding for dealing with the expected aftermath of the storm, and estimates that she will need about $130 million. In the letter, Mrs. Blanco does not request federal troops, nor does she highlight any immediate needs.
Clearly not enough troops were deployed. On Aug. 30, the day after the storm hit, only 4,700 National Guardsmen were mobilized in the state. Mrs. Blanco could have asked for a more substantial force under established emergency-mutual-assistance compacts, which enables governors of neighboring states to share resources in times of disaster. Of the 300,000 Guard troops in the United States, 6,500 are in Louisiana, and nearly half of those are deployed abroad, most of them in Iraq.
The delay in requesting the necessary troops is inexplicable and there was no justification for it. In a press conference on Saturday, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said: “The real issue, particularly in New Orleans, is that no one anticipated the disintegration or the erosion of the civilian police force in New Orleans.” New Orleans musters only 1,500 police officers, insufficient for dealing with a storm like Katrina even without any “disintegration.”
Lt. Gen. Blum said the National Guard did not move sooner to secure the Superdome and convention center because commanders were waiting to amass “an overwhelming force.” Again, there was an an insufficient number of troops. Since then the Guard has mobilized quickly, and there are now more than 40,000 troops deployed in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
Mrs. Blanco appeared to have been unaware of the prospects of catastrophe in New Orleans and other areas. Those left behind could tell her about it.