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|Walsworth reflects on state response to hurricane|
State Sen. Mike Walsworth has been in the thick of things, so to speak.
As chairman of a Senate committee in charge of emergency preparedness, Waslworth rode out Hurricane Gustav's landfall and eventual trek across Louisiana in the state's emergency operations center in Baton Rouge. The center has been "ground zero" for state government for the past several days.
"Everybody seemed to be doing their job, seemed to be suited to the task they were given," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe. "Of course, on all these things the front end makes the back end easier."
Walsworth said he was impressed with the state's initial response to the storm and how it has managed the aftermath so far.
The state emergency operations center was the central command for all emergency preparations and management during the storm. It was from the emergency operations center that Jindal determined where to send valuable resources and manpower as Gustav made its way to Louisiana.
Walsworth said a "can-do spirit" in Baton Rouge made things run smoothly. However, he did recall one moment of concern. That was when the National Hurricane Center informed the governor the magnitude of Gustav could eclipse Hurricane Katrina.
"You could have heard a pin drop," Walsworth said. "For just a moment it deflated every single thing."
According to Walsworth, that moment didn't last long.
"Right after that, the entire organization went into high mode and said, 'let's get them all out,'" Walsworth said.
That was Friday afternoon. By mid-day Sunday, more than two million people had fled Gustav's anticipated path.
The first southern Louisiana residents to begin evacuating lived in nursing homes.
Following the storms of 2005, the state Legislature passed laws requiring nursing homes in hurricane zones to maintain "sister home" contracts with facilities in evacuation areas.
As soon as the determination was made to evacuate, Walsworth said those nursing homes began transporting patients north.
Also, Walsworth said the number of people who fled south Louisiana in private cars or by other non-government means gave state officials an opportunity to use limited resources to evacuate people who could not leave south Louisiana on their own.
"Ninety-nine percent of it is those who can get out on their own," Walsworth said. "The one percent, the 20,000 or so, are the ones we had to get out."
Walsworth said he will remain in Baton Rouge to help manage the storm's aftermath.
As of late Wednesday, his presence at the governor's side was already being felt as northeast Louisiana coped with resource shortages during flash floods on Tuesday.
Joe Stewart, Ouachita Parish Director of the Governor's office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said he was able to call the state's emergency operations center and speak to Walsworth, who secured additional resources for the region.