Given a chance to get it right the second time, the nation did. Residents of East Texas and neighboring Louisiana were long gone when Rita hit Saturday morning. The president was present and accounted for, observing command operations from a center set up in Colorado. Local and state government leaders made sure residents left and as a result, 1 million people lost power, homes were severely damaged, but few died.
Normally, Rita would have seemed devastating, as it sparked fires across its path and swamped Louisiana's shoreline towns with a 15-foot storm surge and 25 inches of rain. But Rita came in Katrina's shadow. With a death toll exceeding 1,000 and flooding that New Orleans will never forget, authorities were ready this time. It took the military two days to get 20,000 troops into the Gulf Coast after Katrina; 55,000 soldiers were in Rita's strike zone before it hit. Government leaders also made sure 3 million people in the target area cleared out ahead of the second storm, so there were no repeats of post-Katrina scenes of mostly poor residents stranded in the Superdome or on rooftops. Even the oil industry seems to be relatively unscathed this time.
Handling Rita properly doesn't let off the hook the people, from President Bush on down, who so sorely mishandled Katrina's aftermath. They still need to be held accountable for their slovenly performance the first time. But with mostly the same cast this time, they worked in harmony. The old adage had a ring of truth: Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me. Not this time, Rita.