LBJ Visited New Orleans Within 24 Hours After Hurricane Betsy

“This is your President!” Johnson announced. “I’m here to help you!”

Hurricane Betsy came ashore at Grand Isle, Louisiana, on the evening of Sept. 9, 1965. Like Hurricane Katrina would do 40 years later, the surge devastated New Orleans, flooding parts of the city, including the Lower Ninth Ward, for days.

One striking difference between Betsy and Katrina was the response of the president and the federal government. Less than 24 hours after Betsy hit and New Orleans was flooded, Pres. Lyndon Johnson was in the city, making surprise visits to shelters, offering encouragements to the city’s newly homeless residents.

Here is a transcript of LBJ’s remarks upon landing at the New Orleans airport at 3 p.m. that day, via John Edwards ’08 Blog:

Today at 3 o’clock when Senator Long and Congressman Boggs and Congressman Willis called me on behalf of the entire Louisiana delegation, I put aside all the problems on my desk to come to Louisiana as soon as I could. I have observed from flying over your city how great the catastrophe is that you have experienced. Human suffering and physical damage are measureless. I’m here this evening to pledge to you the full resources of the federal government to Louisiana to help repair as best we can the injury that has been done by nature.

And then there is this:

In the Ninth Ward, Johnson visited the George Washington Elementary School, on St. Claude Avenue, which was being used as a shelter. “Most of the people inside and outside of the building were Negro,” the diary reads. “At first, they did not believe that it was actually the President.” Johnson entered the crowded shelter in near-total darkness; there were only a couple of flashlights to lead the way.

“This is your President!” Johnson announced. “I’m here to help you!”

The diary describes the shelter as a “mass of human suffering,” with people calling out for help “in terribly emotional wails from voices of all ages. . . . It was a most pitiful sight of human and material destruction.” According to an article by the historian Edward F. Haas, published fifteen years ago in the Gulf Coast Historical Review, Johnson was deeply moved as people approached and asked him for food and water; one woman asked Johnson for a boat so that she could look for her two sons, who had been lost in the flood….

It’s hard to imagine George W. Bush visiting a shelter so soon after a disaster — or rather it is impossible to imagine because it would never happen.


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  • Patchuli
    September 8, 2007 - 12:54 am | Permalink

    I may have issues with LBJ re: Viet Nam, but I completely approve of his actions following Hurricane Betsy. Hurrah for a real man and a real president.

    Bush would never risk his lily-livered pasty white scrawny butt like that.

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