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Monday, September 1

"The Feds are everywhere" and a return to The Deuce

Louisiana government emergency website

August 31, 10:02 AM ET
"J --
Many residents didn't need to be ordered, with an estimated 1 million people fleeing the Gulf Coast on Saturday by bus, train, plane and car. They clogged roadways, emptied gas stations of fuel and jammed phone circuits.
No gas means stranded - amazing the gas stations didn't plan for this.

August 31, 10:04 AM ET

"All in order. The Feds are everywhere.

September 1, 3:30 AM
As of this time New Orleans will avoid a direct hit. And Gustav has been moving so fast that it can't pick up enough energy from warm waters to build to a Category 5 storm. As things stand now it will make landfall as a Cat 3 -- bad enough, and the winds can still build to Cat 5 strength, as they did with Katrina. But right now there is hope that the USA dodged the worst that Gustav might have brought.

I learned a great deal as yesterday progressed about the efforts across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to protect lives against Gustav's onslaught.

This is a war that government agencies at the federal, state and local levels and the National Guard, U.S. military, and countless charities are determined to win.

The first phase of the war, evacuation, has gone well. (Ret.) Lt. General Russell Honore, who led the Joint Task Force (U.S. Army-FEMA) rescue efforts during Katrina's aftermath, told CNN yesterday afternoon that "it's the second and third order of the storm's effects" that are the greatest challenge. But he said that great teams are in place with better coordination and communication than three years ago.

A nod of respect to Ray Nagin. In 2005 I did my share of yelling at Nagin on this blog, and I snapped at him as recently as two days ago to hurry up and announce a mandatory evacuation.

Yet despite his failings at disaster/evacuation planning and management the last time around, he showed accountability and physical courage under dire circumstances by refusing to leave Nola and his post as mayor.

Nagin emerged from the Katrina debacle with a great deal to prove. By all accounts he's come through in the face of Gustav's onslaught, as have all those under his command.

Thanks also to our neighbor Canada, which has pitched in to help.

And I should remember to give thanks to the many reporters, news producers, weather trackers and citizen journalists who are working round the clock to keep the public informed on all matters related to Gustav.

There is always room for improvement, of course, in any vastly complex humanitarian effort. But I can now catch some sleep with the knowledge that many thousands of Americans are working with efficiency and complete dedication to avert the worst effects of a killer storm.

7:30 AM
All this reminds me of the 2005 Pundita post in which I linked to the first-person account of an American who struck out to make himself useful in the wake of Katrina, and which I titled The Deuce.

His account is one part adventure story, one part primer on the volunteer spirit that has galvanized countless millions of Americans over the course of our history to help complete strangers.

I know from learning the hard way that if you're going to get directly involved in a humanitarian crisis, it's generally best to join with a volunteer organization that has experience working under severe pressures. Yet The Deuce is a reminder that you don't have to be a joiner to be a volunteer.

Katrina struck when oil was considerably cheaper; the way things stand now, we are between the devil and the deep sea: if Gustav spares Nola, he can decide to turn his wrath on 4,000 oil rigs along the Gulf Coast and lay devastation to the Gulf coastline communities.

And there may be no respite once Gustav has done his worst. Waiting in the wings are hurricanes Hannah and Ike.

All this is by way of saying that these months running up to the presidential election could be a bad time for Americans, one that stretches our volunteer efforts to the limit.

So this is not the time for recriminations. This is the time to find some way to pitch in. If we can do nothing else, we can pray and thank the efforts of those who are working directly to save others. If you need a little jump-starting, here are the opening passages from The Deuce:
My name is John and I live in Central Texas. I have served in three different military components totaling 25 years of service and I am recording this story for posterity. All opinions are the author's and if you disagree with them, that's really too bad.

Katrina Day 1: Monday, 29 August 2005
Watching the news today was horrific. Hurricane Katrina has devastated an area larger than the United Kingdom. When I heard that Biloxi was savaged, I immediately thought about my best friend Tracy. Tracy was a Master Sergeant with me in the US Air Force and we were stationed together for several years. Friendships formed in the military are far stronger than anything a civilian can experience. They usually last until the grave. I won't go into the psychology of it, it is just so. You usually bond to one particular individual, and Tracy was it. He was my Best Buddy, and that is spelt with two capital B's. I know this man well enough to know that he was not going to evacuate, he would tough it out. Now I was worried sick about Tracy and his family. I tried calling him for several hours but gave up realizing that communication would be non-existent.

Katrina Day 2: Tuesday, 30 August 2005
Spent several more hours trying to contact Tracy, to no avail. It just was not going to happen. The body count is increasing. The question now is: what can I do?

I am sitting at home in air-conditioned comfort, watching a disaster of biblical proportions unfold on the idiot box in the corner. I am a man of action, not talk - always have been and always will be. What action could I take? How could I personally make a difference to what was going on? Even inaction is a form of action, but it has never been my choice. Now the news is telling me that getting food and water to the survivors is the number one priority. I rarely agree with television talking heads, mainly because they are so liberal and also so ignorant about the world around them. I had to concede that, for once, they were right.

What do I do? A plan. A plan is a good thing and helps you anticipate difficulties before they become disasters. I would need transport. I personally own an ex-army vehicle called an M35A2, better known as a deuce and a half. It is 30 years old, has ten driven wheels and is still camouflaged in its original paint scheme. All 3 axles are driven and it is one of the best all-wheel drive off road vehicles in existence. It also has a large cargo bed, with a 5 ton load carrying capacity. Perfect for getting large quantities of food and water into remote areas with difficult terrain.

I also realized that there would be many roadblocks manned by civilian law enforcement and by military personnel. How would I get past them? Would they think of me as a fruitcake? Would they turn me back? Would they think I was selling water for ten bucks a bottle? Would they shoot me?

I dusted off my old camouflage uniform. A bit tight around the middle, but acceptable. This should get me through roadblocks. My next fear was that the news was reporting widespread looting and general mayhem. I did not want my truck, food or water hijacked, so what to do? I loaded my .45 caliber H&K semi-automatic pistol, some extra magazines of ammunition, and buckled on a shoulder holster in plain sight. I did not plan on shooting people. I planned on staying alive. I am a firm believer in the old adage that it is better to be judged by twelve people than to be carried by six.

The next several hours were taken up by servicing the truck. You do not just jump in a 30 year old truck and high tail it a couple of thousand miles, you'll never get there. [...]
And with that, John set off on his odyssey.

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