Lt. Gen. Russel Honore on Katrina Rescue Mission

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," August 29, 2006, that was edited for clarity.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: He is known as the "John Wayne of Katrina." While civilian leaders seemed overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation, he put his skills to work, calling in the military to rescue thousands of people stranded in New Orleans. In the process, he earned the respect and praise of a thankful nation, Democrats and Republicans.

Joining us now from New Orleans, Lieutenant General Russel Honore.

General, thank you for coming.


CAVUTO: That was then. How is New Orleans now?

HONORE: Well, I hear a saw in the background and a hammer. It's getting better. Every day, it gets better.

And, as the infrastructure comes up in the business district, it's spreading out into the communities, which is building hope in — for the future for the people of New Orleans, Saint Bernard Parish, and Plaquemines Parish.


CAVUTO: General, there has been a lot of criticism about all the money that has been committed to New Orleans, but money that hasn't gotten to New Orleans. What do you make of that?

HONORE: Well, it — a lot of money has been spent, immediately during the storm and shortly thereafter, to take people — care of people who had been displaced and the survivors of the storm. But it's going to take some time for this process to issue this money out.

You know, if you want it bad, you will get it bad. Right after the storm, a lot of criticism was leveraged against people receiving benefits and entitlements they weren't attested to. Well, if we do the same thing right now, it could cause a big problem.

That being said, I think the government knows, everybody knows that people want to come back home, and they want to settle their claims with the government. But it's going to — it took time to get that done. And, from the reports I have listened to in the last couple days, traveling around with the leadership down here, that's about to happen. And I think people will start getting their individual checks soon.


CAVUTO: You know, General, I remember, distinctly, before you arrived on the scene, there was total disorder there. No one knew who was in charge. Then, along came this General Honore guy, and — and he was in charge.

Did you just decide then: Look, this is like the Keystone Kops around here; I'm running the show?

HONORE: Well, the governor of Louisiana asked me the day I arrived to coordinate the evacuation of New Orleans, along with the National Guard. And that's what we did.

She gave a priority of work, of search and rescue, and provide food and medicine, and get the people evacuated. And that's what we attempted to do.


CAVUTO: General, a lot of concerns that, if there were to be another hurricane, New Orleans still isn't ready; it would be a mess, maybe even a bigger mess, if we had another Katrina. What do you think?

HONORE: Well, I think people ought to be worried about that, because if they become complacent, we could have a lot of people stuck in the city again.

Remember, we got hit with a Category 3 storm arrived on land. It could have been a lot worse if a Category 5 storm had arrived with the 80,000 people that was left in the city.

CAVUTO: Right.

HONORE: So, if you're in Hurricane Alley, from Florida all the way over to Texas, you have got to be concerned about hurricanes, because there's no way to win against a hurricane.

And days after a tough storm, like Katrina or Andrew, a lot of people are going to need a lot of help, and a lot of infrastructure is going to be destroyed. The storm wins the first quarter every time.

CAVUTO: General, I know you're not a blame guy, but a lot of people are second-guessing what the mayor did and didn't do, what the president did or didn't do, what the senators of the state did or didn't do. What do you think?

HONORE: Well, you're right. I'm not a blame guy. I think we look to the future. We don't want it to happen again. The president, more than once in the last 24 hours, has said there was changes needed to be made. He's went about getting that done.

At the state level, the same thing, more collaboration between the local, state and federal agencies. Millions of dollars of communications equipment have been bought. The great command, Northern Command, has put together an exercise working with the coastal states on hurricanes.

But, even all of that, a hurricane Category 5 is going to destroy everything in its path. And no amount of planning, exercising or anything will stop that destruction.

What we have got to make sure in the future is that we get all the people out before the hurricane come, because the hurricane will win if you get hit by the Category 5 hurricane.


CAVUTO: You know, General, we have had guests on this hour who have said, you know, it's still bad; a lot of people not only have not come back; they don't intend to come back; they think New Orleans is a basket case.

What do you tell them?

HONORE: I don't think that to be true.

I mean, catastrophes have happened in cities before. This is a unique city. The problem we have got is, 53 percent of the people in the city, one of the unique statistics that belong only to this city, were renters. Those people didn't have a — a property to come back to. They don't have property to put a FEMA trailer on.

So, I think the capacity to build affordable housing for poor people to come back, and they will come back. As the jobs come back, people will come back. As industries stand up, jobs will come in, and it will create growth in housing.

It's going to take time. This city was built over 300 years. You're not going to build it back in one year.

CAVUTO: Good point.

General, you know, there are a lot of people so impressed with what you did a year ago and since, that they say, you know that general, he would make a great senator, maybe a governor, maybe a president.

What do you say?

HONORE: I'm busy now just trying to be a good general.



CAVUTO: So, the mood there — I mean, you have been trying to uplift people, tell them, look, we got to rally around here; there's still a lot to go here.

And — and you're kind of a very positive figure. But — but the mood, I'm told from a lot of other people, sir, is — is not at all that positive, not at all upbeat.

Is it very difficult to get them to feel the way you do?

HONORE: I think it's — if there's 100 people on the street, you will know how the one that feels bad know, because they will be most vocal.

There are a lot of people going about, getting this work done. And, just as it was in the early days of the storm, about the city coming apart and being out of control, and hundreds of people dead in the Superdome and the Convention Center, the media didn't get it right. And we may be getting this story not quite right.

CAVUTO: That's a good point.

HONORE: There are a lot of people — poor people — hurting, wanting to come home.

But, remember, most of them was renters. Many of them lived on subsidies. And, right now, the government is taking care of them where they are. They do want to come home, but we — it's going to take time to build that capacity for affordable public housing to get them back home.

CAVUTO: All right.

HONORE: Everybody who has got a deed and a title will get a check, and this thing will get solved.

CAVUTO: OK, General.

HONORE: But the poor people, we got to get fixed.

CAVUTO: General Honore, always a pleasure, sir. Thank you for all you have done.

HONORE: Well, thanks to the American people for the support of the American soldiers...


HONORE: ... sailors, airmen and Marines.

CAVUTO: All right.

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