When Category 4 Hurricane Dennis threatened the Alabama coast in July, Gov. Bob Riley ordered the mandatory evacuation of all of Mobile and most of Baldwin counties days ahead of landfall.
When Category 5 Hurricane Katrina threatened the Big Easy, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issued a mandatory evacuation of the below-sea-level city 20 hours before landfall.
Dennis turned out to be not much worse than a severe summer thunderstorm for much of the coast. And Riley took a verbal beating as 500,000 people sat on jammed highways trying to return home.
Katrina, of course, turned out to be as catastrophic as feared, and state, local, and federal officials are drawing criticism for what's being called a bungled preparation and response.
Riley said in an interview this week that he was satisfied with the state's response to Katrina. Many local officials in south Alabama say they also are pleased. But some - even Riley - are wondering how Alabama would have fared if Katrina had landed directly on us, instead of Mississippi and Louisiana.
After facing three monster hurricanes within a year's time - Ivan, Dennis and Katrina - Riley said state officials have learned lessons, and gotten better, with each response.
Riley said the state prepared resources to move into storm-struck areas soon after the winds cleared. Alabama Emergency Management Agency director Bruce Baughman said the agency had arranged for 55,000 bags of ice, 164,000 gallons of water and 108,000 prepackaged meals.
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After Hurricane Ivan, Atmore Mayor Howard Shell berated the state as his people sat without ice and water for three days while listening to radio reports about deliveries in coastal counties. By contrast, Shell said, state assistance has been quick with the last two storms.
"We've had excellent communications after Ivan. I've got to say it was a learning experience for a lot of us," Shell said.
State Health Officer Don Williamson said the state has improved in establishing and staffing shelters for the sick and infirm. "We did a lot better. If you start with Ivan, we have done better with every response since Ivan," Williamson said.
Riley declined to compare Alabama's preparedness with Louisiana's and Mississippi's, but he defended his early evacuation order during Dennis in July.
"When we made that call on the evacuation the last time in Mobile, if it had gone into Mobile Bay, we would have seen the level of destruction that you see around Biloxi," Riley said. ( Read more... )
Me: But if it's all the same to Mother Nature... we could really live without having any more learning experiences this year.