As I noted in a previous post, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina across America's Gulf Coast states has reminded me of the devastation I witnessed when Tropical Storm Agnes raged through northeastern Pennsylvania, and flooded the communities of the Wyoming Valley.
I counted myself blessed that there were a number of differences between what I experienced in 1972, and what the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are experiencing now.
But in the day's following the storm's departure, I have come to realize that the people of northeastern Pennsylvania were blessed in another way ... we had Congressman Dan Flood.
Flood was a man of another century, of another America. In his heyday, he was probably the most adroit and effective individual to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. The people of his district loved him, and sent him back to Washington over and over again, usually after running unopposed in the election. Admittedly, people of other districts probably despised him for what he was able to do for his district and his state ... and for his 'pull.'
And, boy, did he have pull! As a leading member of the House Appropriations Committee, he held a firm grip on the nation's purse strings, and his influence in the federal government was considerable.
He needed every ounce of that influence, and more, as the prospect for disaster grew in northeastern Pensylvania in 1972. Even as flood waters were still on the rise, a variety of relief and security resources were already on their way to the scene. It's hard to underestimate Flood's impact on bringing those resources to bear on the situation. There was no federal structure at the time for dealing with such a disaster ... in fact, Flood's actions, and those of local and state leaders, laid the groundwork for the establishment of FEMA, later on.
As I watch the chaos, now, in Louisiana and elsewhere, I realize that Flood's initiatives might not be possible today. We have a massive federal emergency preparedness and reaction bureacracy in place, now, that would stifle any such attempts.
Of course, we've been told there really aren't any problems in Louisiana and elsewhere ... that emergency services have been delivered, and delivered well, and that the timeline for delivering those services is really alright. I watched the President's briefing, and I listened to his assurances ... and I thought, "he's no Dan Flood."
My mind went back 33 years, when Flood addressed us by television. He didn't look as good as George Bush ... he was not the 'Dapper Dan' we all knew. He was old and he looked tired, he seemed almost scrawny inside a large Army field jacket and standard field cap of the era, and was soaked by the rain. He lacked, the freshly made-up and combed appearance politicians demand today. Yet, for all of that, there was nothing bedraggled about his voice. He spoke with strength and a cocky defiance, saying to us all, something like, "I have ordered the Army Corps of Engineers not to let the water advance another inch!"
And it didn't ...
Returning to Washington, Flood still used whatever clout he had. One of the results was President Nixon's appointment of Frank Carlucci as a special White House administrator for flood relief services.
All in all, 1972 was one of Dan Flood's finest 'hours' ... and it would be one of his last. He would later find himself under investigation, and step down under a cloud of elections violations.
But back then, he was something of a savior, an inspiration ... and a public servant of the highest order. He was someone who got something done, when and where it needed doing ... and political consequences be damned while people's lives were at stake. Flood may not have been familiar with Davy Crockett's advice of to 'go ahead and do what you're sure is right,' but he applied it, and applied it well. And he did it all with style and panache, with a flair that reflected the time had spent on the stage as a young man.
May all of our leaders ... take note.