On the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Southeast Louisiana, causing catastrophic destruction along the Gulf Coast.
Five years later, the American Federation of Government Employees is paying tribute to the courageous federal workers who were among the first to respond to the crisis. In the first two weeks after Katrina struck, more than 70,000 federal employees from across the country were deployed to the region to assist in relief and recovery efforts.
Among their efforts:
- The Coast Guard deployed more than 5,600 active duty personnel, civilian employees, reservists and volunteers and rescued more than 33,500 people from rooftops and flooded homes.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs treated patients, assisted families in locating evacuated VA patients and helped affected veterans receive benefit checks and prescription drugs.
- The Navy sent 20 ships to the region to provide medical support, humanitarian relief and transportation.
- The Environmental Protection Agency deployed teams to conduct aerial assessments of damage and support clean-up efforts.
AFGE National President John Gage commended federal employees for their heroic efforts during that difficult time.
Five years ago, tens of thousands of brave federal workers risked their own health and safety to help the people of the Gulf Coast in the face of the biggest natural disaster this country has ever seen. Their heroic efforts continue to serve as a vivid reminder of the valuable work federal employees perform each and every day.
After the jump, current and former AFGE members share their recollections about Hurricane Katrina:
Former FEMA employee
Hurricane Katrina was a nightmare come true for Leo Bosner, who at the time was president of AFGE Local 4060, which represents FEMA headquarters employees. In June 2004, Bosner and his local sent a letter to Congress warning lawmakers that FEMA didn’t have the leadership or resources to effectively prepare for and respond to a catastrophic event.
FEMA was vilified in the wake of the storm, but Bosner said the agency was unfairly blamed for the mistakes of a few leaders. “The Hurricane Katrina errors themselves were not the fault of the individual FEMA employees. FEMA employees did a great job; the leaders did a horrible job.”
Bosner, who has since retired from federal service, said he’s hopeful that leaders have learned from the lessons of Katrina but it’s too soon to tell.
VA police officer, Orlando, Fla.
Jim Aldridge thought he had entered a war zone when he got to New Orleans just three days after Katrina had struck. A police officer at the VA Medical Center in Orlando, Fla., Aldridge and five of his fellow officers in AFGE Local 559 spent 10 days guarding the VA Medical Center in New Orleans, which had been evacuated following the hurricane.
“It was empty, flooded, debris everywhere. You could hear gunfire,” Aldridge recalls. “It was rough. It was not an easy experience to go through.”
Still, Aldridge said he had no hesitation about volunteering and would do it again if needed. “Nobody had any second thoughts. They asked for volunteers, we stepped up and went down there and did our jobs.”
Add Your Own Recollections
Do you have your own stories to share about the efforts of federal employees during Hurricane Katrina? If so, share your own stories below.