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By Dave Rogers
For the Record 

President, Governor praise county's storm response


Last updated 9/4/2020 at 1:53pm U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, third from left, speaks with President Donald Trump during Saturday's meeting of governmental officials discussing Hurricane Laura at the Orange County Convention and Expo Center. Orange County Commissioner John Gothia, left, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott listen in.

President, Governor praise county's storm response


Dave Rogers

For The Record


Twice in three afternoons last week, Orange County Judge John Gothia spent parts of some of the longest days of his life in made-for-TV lovefests.

First it was the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. He congratulated all the area leaders for getting citizens to evacuate early.

Then it was the President of the United States, Donald Trump, celebrating how relatively smoothly things went for Orange County which ended up on the "good" side of Hurricane Laura early last Thursday.

"When it hit, I think they say it was the strongest that they've had in Louisiana and Texas in 150 years," Trump said. "But the path was a little bit lucky. So we got a little bit lucky, so that's great."

The hurricane spun off some weirdly historic days for Orange County. When Abbott returned Saturday afternoon to greet Trump on the landing pad at Orange County Airport and join him at the Orange County Convention Center and Expo, it was the first time Orange had ever hosted a U.S. President and Texas governor on the same day.

And more than a thousand local supporters turned out on the road between the Airport and the Expo Center to cheerfully greet the visiting President.

But nobody wants to host a hurricane in order to host a President.

"We're just good at this," Gothia said Monday morning, speaking of the county's storm prep and the act of restarting after a natural disaster. "It runs smooth. It all gets done. Everybody knows what they're supposed to do."

Gothia, who began his county service as commissioner in 2017, said last week was the sixth time in his four years as an Orange County leader to work during a disaster out of the "Thibodome," the hurricane-proof Expo Center designed to serve as Emergency Operations Center during and after hurricanes and built with a mix of federal and local money and much pushing and pulling by former County Judge Carl Thibodeaux.

"I've got to tell you, though," Gothia said, "I'd almost rather be up here telling you all that it's not going smooth because we don't know what we're doing. But we do know what we're doing."

Unlike Tropical Storms Harvey and Imelda, two of the wettest four or five storms ever to be recorded in the U.S., flooding was not an issue this time in Southeast Texas. Wind was. Gusts of about 100 mph snapped tall trees in half, tangling up power lines and leaving blue tarps where roofs used to be.

But we were on the clean side of the storm.

"We've been through a lot over the last bunch of years, and it seems like it just won't stop," said the county judge who spent Sunday overseeing a roof repair on his twice-flooded Bridge City home.

"But the one thing I know that won't stop is the resilience of this community to come back, put it back together and to continue to love Orange County for a great place to be and a great place to live. We just have to put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I know that is very difficult.

"But I'll tell you, not only did we have a storm to deal with. But then we had a special guest [Trump] in that created a whole lot of work for a whole lot of people that stayed up all night long trying to make this thing happen, to make this fitting for the guest we had. I'd just like to reiterate what all of us feel up here about our employees and the stuff in this county, is that you're first class. I don't want to leave anybody out. Everybody's playing their roles. It makes me proud to be a part of it. Thank you for that."

Laura was just one of two storms in the gulf at the start of the week. Marco was briefly a Category 1 hurricane but fizzled and mostly just produced some rain. Laura was was predicted to make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane anywhere between Galveston and Morgan City, Louisiana.

But it seemed to be bearing down on Orange and Port Arthur early Wednesday and everybody that hadn't run for the hills Tuesday had to be thinking twice now. The fact that it turned eastward during the late evening was a big relief for local residents whose giant sighs were not fully enjoyed out of concern for the neighbors in Louisiana.

"The fact is we truly dodged a major storm by about 15 miles," Gothia said. "All you've got to do is Google it, get on any [device] thing you want to get on, if you want to bring  back some horrible memories and look at what Lake Charles and Cameron and Sulphur, that area, is looking at and see the damage they're in and it will remind you of what we were in when Rita and Ike hit us, because they got a combination of both.

"We'll do our best to help those folks as well, because they helped us when we were at our time of need and we need to help them as we take care of ourselves."

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick remarked to the president Sunday how selfless Gothia had been in the Thursday meeting with the governor, when he offered to send unneeded hurricane supplies to Louisiana.

"Give the judge credit. We were here two days ago and the judge said, 'Look, we weren't hit as hard as some other areas. So whatever we have that other people need.' And so many Texans, we respect the Cajun Navy that came for us. We don't have a name for our volunteers, but I've seen on all the newscasts, thousands of Texans have gone over to Louisiana and that's the spirit of Americans working together."

The mind boggles at the logistics needed to get the President of the United States from Point A to Point B several times a day. A number of planes and squadron of helicopters travel ahead of him and with him.

Two Marine Osprey tilt-rotor planes brought motorcade vehicles and possibly the President's Marine One helicopter to Texas, then met Trump and his press corps that travels with him aboard Air Force One in Lake Charles. An Osprey flew the press corps to Orange, while Marine One did the honors for Trump.

After Trump's meeting at the Expo Center, where American and Texas flags were backlit expertly on either side of a Texas star and Orange County sign by the camera crew, he and the press corps took a swift 25-minute motorcade ride back to Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles to reboard Air Force One and return to Washington. President Donald Trump visited with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and Orange County Judge John Gothia during a meeting with state and local officials held to discuss recovery efforts for Hurricane Laura, a storm with wind gusts up to 100 miles per hour in Texas causing roof and tree damage and loss of electricity in Orange.

The list of people who came to Orange for Gov. Abbott's meeting was impressive, starting with U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, U.S. Representatives Brian Babin and Randy Weber, Patrick, the head of regional FEMA efforts and chief of the Texas Department of Emergency Management. Also, two state senators from this area, two state representatives and several mayors and county commissioners.

Saturday, Cruz and Abbott returned, along with Babin and Weber, Patrick and TDEM Chief Nim Kidd. Missing on return engagements were Cornyn and Orange Mayor Larry Spears. The mayor revealed on Facebook he had tested positive for COVID-19 before Trump's arrval. There was no word on Cornyn's absence but Trump did refer to "two of my favorite people you are missing because of Covid," while talking to the Texas governor.

Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames and Orange County Sheriff Lane Mooney joined the dais, which included FEMA boss Pete Gaynor and Homeland Security Director Chad Wolf. Mark Meadows, Trump's latest chief of staff, appeared from off-stage to answer a non-storm question from the traveling press corps, and according to a list put out by the White House, advisor Hope Hicks was also supposed to be on the trip.


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