Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the greatest natural disaster in the lifetime of anyone alive at the time.
It wrought catastrophic costs in lives and billions of dollars along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida and inland for many miles to those in the path of its direct hit.
It would also inform governments at all levels and presidents to come of what to do if such a thing was to happen again.
But no matter what any of them would try to do in preparation and response, the forces of nature would always leave them all, with the best of intentions, promising what was not even possible.
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And so we are reminded again with the devastation to another great American city and surrounding communities as the new storm of the ages known as Harvey brings people together, valiantly helping those in its wake.
Even before the ravages of ongoing flooding had subsided, the president was reassuring the people of Texas and Louisiana that the full resources of the federal government were already mobilized.
To the work of the often-beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency he declared its director’s performance in leading the organization to be “outstanding in many ways.”
You couldn’t help but hear the echo of President George W. Bush’s much maligned compliment of FEMA’s director in the Katrina response, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
What the media never managed to report was how that statement at Bush’s first news briefing from the scene had come following the praise from the governors of Mississippi and Alabama they had paid to the head of the agency who would soon be relieved of his duties.
“I want to thank Mike Brown and his staff.” Alabama Governor Bob Riley declared, “FEMA has absolutely been great.” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour followed up with, “I want to join with Bob – the Federal Government is great.”
What all those men could not have known at that point was just how much pain and suffering was yet to come.
Neither did they yet know the magnitude of the challenges that lay ahead and how long it would take to begin using words of restoration and rebuilding.
With the media focused on failures, there was little reality being reported on just how impossibly overwhelmed were all the human and material resources of local, state, and federal governments assembled in response.
Instead, blame was assessed, and fabricated history was recorded in the politicization of the disaster.
Such is the tendency as news outlets, with the help of cheap opportunist in the political party out of power, looking for anything that could, if manipulated well, hurt the Trump presidency or his administration.
Still, stories will be written and aired about ordinary people coming from everywhere to the aid of their fellow citizens, and that’s as it should be.
Therein lies the work of the better angels of our nature.
I spent a good part of two years in my capacity as regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency witnessing on the scene the amazing work of men and women doing what was often the impossible in the Katrina disaster.
In New Orleans and all along the Mississippi coast I saw heroic efforts of those working at all levels of government to restore the lives of countless victims.
It was remarkable in so many ways, many of which are known only to them and the people they helped.
Winston Churchill famously declared that “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required.”
His words profoundly describe what has been done in disasters before and is what is taking place now.
May God bless them all.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.