NEW ORLEANS – Community leaders had a message for Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson when he visited New Orleans Tuesday to assess the National Guard's response to Hurricane Ida and see troops.
They gathered around him on the street with words they wanted shared with the entire force.
"We are absolutely eternally grateful for all the help that you all have given us," said Councilman Jay Banks, New Orleans City Council, one of several leaders who heaped praise on the response led by the Louisiana National Guard.
A Category 4 storm with 150 mph maximum sustained winds, Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, Aug. 29, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
"This storm was devastating, one of the biggest five in the history of this country," Banks said. "We had infrastructure fails that have never happened before, yet you all are helping us get our people back into place. That is something that we can never say enough thanks for."
By Tuesday morning, more than 8,800 Guard members from 14 states had rescued 397 people and 65 pets; distributed more than 4.4 million bottles of water, more than 3.8 million meals ready to eat and 224,000 sandbags; assessed more than 4,400 miles of roads, and cleared more than 2,700 miles, the Louisiana Guard reported.
"Heroic work," New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell called the continuing response.
Guard members also are providing security, communication, generator support and command and control, and continuing route clearance.
"For four days now, it's been seamless," said State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson. "We can't tell you how grateful we are."
In Lafitte, the 2225th Multi-Role Bridge Company built a floating bridge after Ida destroyed the community's swing bridge.
In New Orleans, the chief of the National Guard Bureau watched as troops handed water and ice to a steady flow of drivers visiting one of the 67 distribution points Guard members are operating in areas affected by the storm.
"Look at the resilience of this community; everybody's chipping in and helping each other out," he said.
"We would not be able to do this without you all giving us the logistical support to make it happen," Banks said. "We could not be here recovering at the level we're recovering without you all."
Lessons learned from Katrina helped Louisiana absorb the blow of an even stronger storm, Hokanson said as he flew over affected areas in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to assess the damage and response.
One tactic that helped the Guard respond effectively: staging essential equipment and supplies outside the affected area before the storm arrived, ready to roll when the hurricane passed.
Levees strengthened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also made a critical difference, Hokanson said. "It is pretty remarkable, when you look at the force of the storm, how the levees mitigated most of the impact."
Nevertheless, Hokanson saw thousands of blue tarpaulins on rooftops during the aerial portion of his assessment and severe property damage in some areas, each hurricane-trashed home testimony to the human misery wrought by natural disasters. More than 400,000 people remained without power Tuesday.
The general also joined Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards at the state's emergency operations center for a daily staff update on the response.
"This takes tremendous teamwork," Hokanson said. "I'm proud of the National Guard's support to our local, state and federal partners. The training and equipment we have for our primary mission – to fight and win our nation's wars as the combat reserve of the Army and Air Force – makes this kind of response possible."
Among other stops, Hokanson visited a command and control center, where he talked with troops.
"Keep up the great work – and let's work ourselves out of a job," he told them.