Aerial view of stranded people making their way along flooded Canal Street after hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, 2005. Warren Buffett believes even bigger storms are on the way. Picture: AFP
Aerial view of stranded people making their way along flooded Canal Street after hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, 2005. Warren Buffett believes even bigger storms are on the way. Picture: AFP

The governor hit by Katrina dies, aged 76

Former Louisiana governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, whose political career was derailed by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, has died.

After struggling for years with cancer, Blanco died on Sunday in hospice care in Lafayette. She was 76.

Blanco had a rare eye cancer that she battled successfully in 2011, but it later returned and spread to her liver.

Blanco held Louisiana's top elected job from 2004 to 2008. Katrina raised her profile nationally and forever impacted her legacy. The devastating August 2005 hurricane killed more than 1,400 people in Louisiana, displaced hundreds of thousands and inundated 80 per cent of New Orleans.

Historians will continue to debate whether any governor could have been prepared for such a catastrophe, but Blanco shouldered much of the blame after images of thousands stranded on rooftops and overpasses were broadcast to the world, and the government was slow to respond.

Blanco was criticised as unprepared, overwhelmed and indecisive. The recovery she guided moved ploddingly.

"While she knew that her name would forever be linked with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it was her dying wish that she be remembered for her faith in God, commitment to family and love of Louisiana," Blanco's family said.

In a letter announcing her terminal condition in her final months, the devout catholic thanked Louisiana residents for their "abiding love" during her years of service, and described the challenges of responding to Katrina and the follow-up blow of Hurricane Rita a month later. She called it an "honour and blessing" to lead Louisiana at the time.

Blanco said Louisiana's misery was worsened by a Republican-led White House desperate to blame someone else for its disaster response failures. "I just thought I could shout more loudly than the noise around me, but in the end I couldn't. There was just too much pain," she once said.

More than a decade after the storms, views of Blanco are generally more sympathetic. She gets praise for running a corruption-free government and championing education.

Louisiana's current governor John Bel Edwards, described Blanco as a mentor to him and a trailblazer to women.

"She led Louisiana through one of our darkest hours" Edwards said in a statement Sunday. "I hope history will remember (her) as a tireless advocate for Louisiana, who fought fiercely for our state to rebuild."


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