The good news is that people seemed better prepared, either to ride out the storm or to evacuate under their own steam.
“Less than 100 people requested public transportation to evacuate, very few compared to other parishes,” said Lt. Col. Larry Landry, deputy chief of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for St. Martin Parish.
Not only were more people better equipped to “shelter in place,” but a number of businesses stepped up help, Landry said.
“My wife was able to pick up a generator post-storm at a reasonable price,” he said. “The generator providers were ready. We had fuel stations and grocery outlets in the parish that were prepared with generators, Businesses were more prepared than in past storms.”
As far as the government response, which had a low bar to clear after Katrina and Rita, there were still some hiccups, Landry said.
“When you have the entire state devastated, the areas that were supposed to have shelters ended up having tornadoes and torrential rain
and we ended up having to share assets with them,” he said.
Moving supplies around was difficult. I-10 became impassable for a time due to downed power lines.
And there was still a bureaucracy to deal with. While in Katrina-Rita, the right hand plainly didn’t know what the left hand was doing, in Gustav it was a balancing act between immediate response and ultimate accountability.
A good example of that, Landry said, was the choice of POD – point of distribution – sites for fresh water, ice and the meals-ready-to-eat, or MREs.
“The POD site was supposed to be in Breaux Bridge but by the time the supplies were available, Breaux Bridge had drinkable water and electricity and the grocery stores and fuel stations were opening back up,” he said.
“Butte La Rose had no power, had no drinkable water, and by the reports we were getting would remain without water for a considerable amount of time.”
When St. Martinville lagged behind in getting power restored, Landry wanted to move the POD there but was prevented from doing so by the state. A similar thing happened in lower St. Martin, where the POD in Stephensville was continually resupplied even after power was restored to the area while another POD at Belle River, which remained in the dark, never received supplies.
Landry said he was able to overcome the obstacle by sending some of the Stephensville supplies to Belle River.
In the upper part of the parish, volunteer firefighters and others picked supplies up at Butte La Rose and transferred them to other unofficial sites at Breaux Bridge and Arnaudville.
A lot of the bureaucratic problems were overcome on the fly by communicating up the chain to the state level, Landry said.
The process of second-guessing, making “after-action” reports and formulating new plans, actually began as the crisis was unfolding, Landry said.
“Everything down to the last drop of diesel is
accounted for and justified,” he said.
“You ought to see the paperwork we’ve got on this one already.”