tv Haley Barbour on Americas Great Storm CSPAN October 11, 2015 6:00pm-6:49pm EDT
[inaudible conversations] welcome. i'm the director of the university press of mississippi. i am thrilled to see all of you here this evening and i want to give a special thank you to our friends at the university press of mississippi for this beautiful spread of snacks and also to take another opportunity to thank the bookstore. they are fantastic bookstore partners and we are grateful to them as always.
[applause] the former mississippi governor haley barbour needs no introduction. you are familiar with the many years of work in the nation's capital, and also he's a man that gets around on the world stage. i was talking several years ago to develop mississippian and novelist who asked the time was doing a teaching summit in dublin and he was wandering around the campus kind of exploring his new settings and he opens the door to the lecture hall and there is haley barbour lecturing on international politics in front of them )-right-paren ireland. so a governor with many talents but i will say what we have may have been the most significant chapter in mississippi was the politician public servant began ten years ago this week as the wind began gathering into what would become the monster storm of hurricane katrina. over the next years the
governor, his wife marcia and first responders and public officials followed from mississippi and the gulf coast worked tirelessly and absolutely an unchartered territory. so in the new book, "america's great storm," we are fortunate to governor gives a behind the scenes look of exactly how he handled this unchartered territory and the important lessons he's taken away from that particular journey. i've also been fortunate to experience the governor's talents for making the impossible possible. the typical book schedule is about a 12 month publication schedule, and americans great storm came together in less than six so this was a small miracle for us and i want to thank the governor and co-author and the marvelous assistance who are here tonight and the many people that helped check the facts and wound up photos and do a lot of the work to make this happen and
also to the university press staff. there was a sense of infectious enthusiasm that we were all doing something big together and that was very meaningful to us. we are grateful to be a part of you telling the story and once again you bring back the best of those around you. welcome and you are going to tell us a little bit about your book. [applause] >> leila salisbury, thank you very much and to everybody at the university press for doing this. when i thought about writing this book i had a casual friendship with john meacham and random house and i said if i write a book about trinity and
he called me back two weeks later or a month later and said i've been thinking about this you ought to get the university of press of mississippi to do this. we are going to publish god knows how many books this year. you think we can get it done in about six months and he was right he gave me the right advice and i was smart enough to take it and we appreciate you all. i had never written a book before when i was the chairman of the republican national committee i headed to the book on public policy that was written by 13 committees that we had a appointed on different subject matters as far as writing the book this is my first time to do that and likely my last time to do that. [laughter] i can't tell can tell you i looked back there and i have
another assistant named zoe and the two of them wrote and typed what i wrote out in longhand and in hundreds of pages in longhand jerry nash helped me start right in the book and it was great. when you write a book before it ever gets published you have read it about 15 times. the first two or three times i thought this was a great book. they paid very little attention to mississippi.
they don't consider that news. they want a big story about something terrible happening happening and those things didn't happen in mississippi. we bore the brunt of the national disaster in history. it was an obliteration on the coast and it wasn't just a coastal calamity. a third of the fatalities happened in the land in the inland counties of the state and we had hurricane force winds north of the debian. they were declared major disaster areas because of the amount of destruction in the counties more than 200 miles in length. and frankly you have to see it in person to get it, to capture the scale of the destruction and the type of destruction.
you couldn't get that out of a television camera or photograph in the newspaper. you have to see it. so as time went on i thought about the storm and maybe the tenth anniversary would be the right time. it told a story that not everybody got to see and virtually nobody got to see enough because it simply was like a cover. it's a story of self-reliance who had the misfortune whatever you want to call it to bear the brunt of the natural disaster in history as the greatest
insurance losses was loss it was the third deadliest natural disaster in american history. they grew up around the golf south when a hurricane comes out out of north to south, the worst place to be is in the northeast quadrant of the right hand and of course katrina came on shore almost on the louisiana mississippi line which of course is per river and were mississippi and louisiana make virtually a 90-degree angle and it came and pushed all the water that it had been pushing in front of it for days pushed it all into that corner with 150 to 160-mile per hour winds so that while it was 200 miles an hour there's 200 hurricanes and we
thought camille would be as bad as a hurricane could be. one of only three category three hurricanes to come onshore the united states. we planned for katrina. there was the gold standard. it couldn't get worse then coming county -- camile. the winds were not as high that that wasn't a problem it was the storm surge that was the greatest ever reported in the history of meteorology according to the national weather service. the first town near the line and near the eye of the hurricane the storm surge was more than 38 feet deep when you count the waves on top. there's not one structure left in waveland mississippi after
the storm went through. the problem is that was also gigantic. when it first came off sure it meant that 70 something miles away the storm was still more than 20 feet deep, more than 20 feet above the mean sea level there was nothing left but the foundation. and in fact most people don't remember downtown mobile flooded from the storm surge and it was generated by the storm that came on shore at the pearl river. so this gargantuan storm wreaked havoc and you have to see it.
i will never forget the first time i saw it. we couldn't get out on monday. the storm came on monday morning and the roads were totally covered in debris. this is the greatest amount of debris that are left in the wake of a hurricane. in fact it was twice as much as hurricane andrew in 1992 we had more cubic yards of debris that was on the ground and got picked up by somebody the federal government paid. that doesn't include all of the debris in private yards and the inland counties that's just what the federal government registered and have to pay for. one of the things you learn as you can start building and you get the debris cleanup so the
storm was genuinely unique and incredibly awful and we bore the brunt of it and i always tell people katrina is one storm but to disasters. one disaster is what happened in mississippi. this hurricane with this gigantic storm surge with this 150 some miles per hour wind and the destruction that we kind of learned about from terrible hurricanes, new orleans if you saw a picture in "time" magazine which i did a couple weeks after the storm they had pictures and water would be up to the pops up windows and homes. it was awful. it was a terrible disaster but a very different because you the woodwork and there wasn't one shingle off the roof in the pictures. it was all done by the rising
water flooded that resulted from when they were first talked and then when they gave way so it's very different from what we went through and i am not minimizing it was awful but he had borne the brunt and when i saw it tuesday morning after the storm on monday from a helicopter, it looked as if a nuclear weapon had gone off in the sound off the coast as if the hand of god had wiped away the coast some places for blocks in some places for miles if crossed numerous times sometimes six or 8 miles in my and. and you should know a storm surge isn't a tidal wave or a synonymy. the water rises for hours and goes back down for hours it
pushes in and then it pulls back out and in each direction it's very damaging but in this case more damaging than usual because i wouldn't have thought of it. they rise with the golf so if it rises 19 feet, the bay of st. louis rises 19 feet or in this case more like 30 feet so that means that if you are in st. louis the storm surge is tearing things apart on the gulf side but it's also tearing things apart on the north side. gene gene taylor the congressman from st. louis's home who was home was utterly obliterated was from the storm surge coming out of the day. he lived way in camile he wouldn't have had anything
happened because he lived on the north north side of st. louis but because the bay rose if the destruction and that's part of the shredding that you saw of timber into trees and leaves and all sorts of things. having seen that and remembered very vividly i talk to myself in that helicopter how many more bodies are going to be buried down there under all that debris and if you would have told me 238, i would have said you are sent you are the most optimistic pollyanna edge person that i've ever been around but that's what it was and part of the reason is because the good work by the first responders who were down there from city governments and
county governments and also the state governments and the national guard, coast guard who were phenomenal so one of the reasons i had to write this book is because i thought the story needed to be told about the first responders and needed to be told about these people in mississippi that just got knocked down flat but they got right back up and they went to work and helps themselves and also helping their neighbors and that was a constant theme in katrina. they were great about the little lady down the road or those that
were down the dirt road nobody could get to. my mom used to say crisis and catastrophe brings out the most common brings out the best and most people and i saw that over and over again. another reason is about the elected officials on the coast and all over the state. one of the reasons louisiana had such a hard job is the mayor of new orleans fought the governor all the time and they were pulling in opposite directions. of course i am a republican and half the elected officials on the coast were democrats but they said from the day before the storm not even the first day
somebody is going to be in charge if there is a disaster if we are bidding to the worst damage suggested be in trouble and that's you. you know for an elected official to give up power is an unnatural act and yet u-uniform leave a get uniformly they did. it's one of the reasons why we never lost a border on the gulf coast coast it's one of the reasons there was so little on the gulf coast and one of the reasons we were able to put together a plan in a relatively short period of time to rebuild us of those people want to deserve credit. you don't read anywhere or see that at the time.
the viking tells you it made a gigantic difference idiot i guess have nothing except for the strength and character of the people, nothing was more important for me to get writing again about the volunteers that came to mississippi. it is all together fitting and proper that the worst natural disaster in american history as the greatest outpour voluntarism and the philanthropy in american history and that is exactly what katrina did. 954,000 volunteers came to mississippi first five years. they would work with a church or charity that would help direct them. 954,000 perhaps as remarkable is that 400,000 of them came after the first year. we had about 600,000 come in the first year and we had another
400,000 come in the next four years. people kept coming and they were so indispensable that i'm going to tell you for the first year virtually every volunteer out of the 600,000 didn't do anything but cleanup. they didn't have a great job when they came to mississippi. they were scraping and trying to clean off mold and ripping off sheetrock and tearing up the floors and just doing the most menial difficult things. but you know what, the attitude was so great. almost verbatim the volunteers would come up and say you know, governor, your people are so
great. but i feel like i've got more out of this for myself then the good that i've done for the people that came here and to me that was such a powerful sentiment. it was reporting to them and it was fulfilling. but mostly these were people from faith-based groups. they were church people and this was their religious service to their god and interestingly, they were all over the lot. the corporation was a big construction company and for the 2002 winter olympics they built most of the temporary housing. they called me after the storm
and that and said local people at like to put our expertise to choose for the people that are coming here to work so we were at the buccaneer state park and they built this tent as big as a football field and slept 700 people. so they asked us to come down for the grand opening so we set of course and there was an area that didn't have walls and that's where the lunch was going to be about 220 to 250. there was a big motor home, the big rv and they said at the
venice in action where they wouldn't take any money. they didn't allow the state or anybody else to pay for anything there is the cooking and kind of tickled me. how many are on seven to eight for seven days and they said six. what about the rest of you and of course i had already know the answer. they were people of the same denominations that are prominent in mississippi because they came down here from a church somewhere else and were being directed by church in mississippi at the denominations that there is always the heads
and there were lutherans and catholics and the whole 9 yards. no matter the difference in their theology and the desire to serve their god as they knew their god. they said my name is harold and i'm from new york. ice is about to be the high holy day which typically occurs in the religion of most sacred of the jewish holy day in october
and he said should i come home to new york and he said my son told me know you are probably closer to god where you are now. just took my breath away. here is this jewish man and again he was here for his religious service. and at times we have muslims and jews working together and it's one of the great things about america and one of the things that is installed without the story that these people came to serve because of the religious views their religious views and in our country we can do that and you can get a pat on the back for doing that and we need more people to know about these
people that came because of their religious ideas. we had people like americorps these kids just out of college and they would come and stay for months. they kind of trained at the first day and then worked for five days and went home. most of the training was discovered after about a month. people that did all of the training they were there for the the long-term. they stayed for months and months. they knew how to teach people what to do so don't get me wrong the red cross and habitat for humanity a lot of these places were fabulous but the vast majority of these people came out of religious fervor and i wanted that to be part of the story, part of the 46th sister states.
more than 20,000 employees of states and local governments in other states came to mississippi and include more than 10,000 national guard. we have 3,000 mississippi national guard in iraq if these were a godsend to us so this is a book that is going to be mostly about things you haven't left much about because like i say those are not the stories the news media thinks our news. but the other things are about how the legislature stood up and did a great job in the special session and did a great job by doing things that needed to be done including letting the casinos come on shore but they didn't do things that didn't need to be done. they didn't spend money that we didn't have.
they were prudent and what they did in the book. we fought like cats and dogs over tort reform and budgets and everything but when this came up, bill stepped up to play and was a leader. we talk in the chapter about congress and what we did with congress and how indispensable he was in a just a blessing he was chairman of the appropriations committee and the senate. they had the best position in the whole congress. interestingly the delegation is very much like the local officials. they told me wednesday after the storm we are great because her.
we are not going to try to develop a plan. we are not going to tell you what we think you all off to do. you and the local people you will develop a plan in mississippi. you bring it to me and i will try to get it passed. you decide what we need to do and i will try to get it done. interestingly president bush the next week came to the first meeting of the commission and the commission about recovery and rebuilding and renewal. he said we want you in mississippi to decide how mississippi gulf coast will be rebuilt. we are not going to decide in washington but i will give you all the help i can give you. the federal government took some really bad criticism and a lot of it very deserved and logistical system that they had and posed and it totally collapsed. we were within a day if not
hours of catastrophic results because of it. but i have to tell you one of the ways we worked around the federal government failure was the u.s. military stepped in and they brought us 1.7 million meals that they airlifted in and it took the place of what fema was supposed to have done and this was the pentagon taking deals that were supposed to be for soldiers and saying we can get them replaced before we run out. so a lot of times the federal government was a great partner and did get a lot more right than wrong but they sure did some things wrong and i'm not saying they didn't put the book is half as good as the story because if i've done the story
justice, this is good to be a great book. i mentioned my mother talking about the crisis bringing out the best in people and she had a follow-up to that quote and would say remember how the crisis doesn't create the character. the crisis reveals the character. the character was already there. the spirit and character of the people in mississippi was there but recognized perhaps most bios by ourselves but after katrina come after the response of our people i can't tell you how many times i would hear what i first heard at a business council meeting at the organizations and
the ceos made a talk i month after about how we were doing and a man jumped up after i finished and he said, and i don't know who he is he said you've got to be proud of your people. those are the kind of people we would like to have working for us and i would suggest to you 20 oh, aviation, they never thought of coming to mississippi. you wouldn't wish it on on your worst enemy to go through what we had to go through but having survived, having this debate can respond to the worst natural disaster in history, the truth is the response did more than anything else that has happened in my lifetime. i believe sincerely those in people's image of us but also of
our self image because i do think we did not recognize the spirit and character of our people as much as we should have until this terrible storm needed to be revealed to everybody. i hope you like the book. i am again grateful to the university press and to jenny and rebecca and the people watching. i'm tremendously grateful to you we had a great time doing this and he had been a great partner.
i've always be grateful to him. i end the book with a chapter called ten lessons in leadership that i'm not going to go through right here but i do belief that a few well look at them no matter what kind of a leader you are captain of the football team president of the university, president of the united states, ceo of some company you will see the lessons from that disaster those lessons are applicable to most. the one in charge has to make decisions. we are in totally unchartered water. we were making it up as we went
along. somebody had to be in charge and make decisions in the one thing i learned, you make enough decisions you're going to make some bad decisions but the other thing is even more obvious in the disaster no decision is worse than a bad decision. if you let it take its natural course that is the worst. don't act like it might hurt me politically or hurt my reputation. you make a bad decision, change it or adjust it and have a staff that is strong enough and good enough they will tell your boss maybe we need to look at something different. to tell the truth and that is one of the great lessons of
catastrophe. but credibility is first tested with your own staff. they are hopefully end powering. politicians don't like delegating authority. they are willing to delegate the authority necessary to carry out the responsibility so people can get something done so they can help you. the last thing i will say is the last lesson in the buck. it is really important to have a
great partner. i was blessed in the katrina that marcia and i, we have been married 33 years, 43 now but she became the eyes and ears for not just me but for our whole team she was on the coast the first 90 days after the storm and she became the face of said somebody cares and somebody is trying to help. i always say i don't believe she ever try to help anybody voting for me. she thought her job was to help the people that knew the least about how to get help. the people that have the least in resources and needed the help of the worst. she did and i'm very proud of her but as a blessing of leadership is great to have a
partner that understands what you're doing and why you are working 80 hour weeks and why you are driving your staff working 80 hour weeks and why this is hard. she got it and she was there to keep me informed. she was there to kick me when my ego got a little out of line and was there to cheer me up when i got down, and i won't call you there are a lot of days that it was pretty easy to be down. we had to look at what we were dealing with. i hope you like the book. i hope you will see that the book gets more coverage for what really happened in mississippi than we have had so far. if we do that will achieve my main goal.
thank you all. [applause] somebody in the back i can't see very well but they have their hand up. >> [inaudible] can you speak about the frustration not being able to communicate? spinnaker general of the national guard docs down to the coast monday night with 800 national guard and he said for the first several days he might as well have been a civil war general because they had no ability to communicate she would have to send somebody in fact he talks in the book about filling out cards and getting your car to some enlisted man and sending the name to try to find some officer who they couldn't communicate with the.
its critical and of course you've got to remember it's not just a cell phone towers. when you lose electricity, you can't imagine what all you lose. but lights go out and air conditioning doesn't work it just means the food locker in the freezers and the coolers at the grocery store don't work so all the food goes bad. it means the pumps at the gas station you get thousands of gallons of gas in the tank and you can't get it up even those in areas where you have enough elevation change. one of the great days after took about eight weeks to get electricity restored. they had every customer had lost
power. they lost a huge part of the generation that almost all the transmissions they got electricity back on for 12 days to every customer that could take electricity and now the truth is about a fourth or fifth couldn't take electricity because a lot of them have a house left. we created a new verb during katrina. it meant my house was gone and there was nothing left and there were probably 20 or 25,000 homes on the gulf coast that were reduced. to finish on that point under the federal disaster law they would get 7.5% of the public
assistance etc. the federal government gave the state to do this and that we get another 7.5% of what is called hazardous mitigation we wanted to take our money and we have twice as much money coming to build an interoperable communications systems they wouldn't let us use the money for that. they said that the communications didn't fit into the house or us and it's about the stupidest thing i've ever heard of in my life because if you can tell people to get out of the way you will save a lot of lives and a lot of property. at the end of the day the senator made them move $107 billion out of the hazard mitigation account and put it in a different account and then give it to us. that is how pigheaded they were about this stupid rule we were
still the only state in america that has a survivable interoperable wireless communication system statewide. anybody -- yes, sir. >> i wonder if he would talk about leadership you were on television so early on in the disaster dealing with the amount of money and you were always a composed sensible boy. how in the world did you maintain that? we had a press briefing at least every day. some days we would have more than one for some particular reason or not.
so i delete one of the strong lessons in the catastrophe is to be open but let the public through left the public through the news media know what's going on. if it's bad news, admit it. when i was the director of the white house henry kissinger spoke to the staff and said in the government and politics if there is bad news, get it out fast because unlike fine wine, bad news doesn't improve with age. and so i followed that. i would say we emphasize the good and we were trying to get you to hope and confidence because the ultimate mission here is to get people to return to their communities and rebuild their communities. so the housing was the biggest issue for the second week.
so he we tried to get the truth out and it's got to tell the truth nothing hurts worse than for people to find out that you are lying were lying about something and it destroys your credibility. by id was composed i don't think of myself as ever having been especially composed. i remember doing interviews with cnn on wednesday morning or thursday morning after the storm and the political reporter for cnn by satellite i'm standing in front of the governor's mansion in big satellite truck and he asked me three times in a row why i wasn't being critical of the federal government, was i being politically loyal to president bush he kept asking the question and i just kept if
you are going to try to be a good teammate you told people here's the problem. finally he said he asked me for the first time and i said look we have an interview with an argument which ever one you want i'm ready so i did occasionally lose my temper but you've got to give people good information which means you've got to make it understandable. being truthful isn't enough and people don't understand it or the import of it. we've tried to stay briefed and keep the public briefed and i don't know that there's any magic about if you try to get it across you will tend to not be as shrill or overpowering as
c-span2 in las vegas attending the freedom fest and we are interviewing the author is out here and joining us now is somebody that's been on booktv before from previous books today is michael shermer is his name and it's called the oral arc. and this book the moral arc you write that during the years i spent researching and writing this book when i told people the subject is mortal progress to describe the responses as incredulous would be an understatement most people thought i was hallucinatory. >> that's right. the problem is of course like everybody else i do watch the news and it seems like things are bad or getting worse with intact but i try to do is track the long-term historical progress over centuries and millennia watch for days and hours and weeks so in other words follow the trend line not