Shortly after Hurricane Katrina roared through South Mississippi knocking out electricity and communication systems, the White House ordered power restored to a pipeline that sends fuel to the Northeast.
That order - to restart two power substations in Collins that serve Colonial Pipeline Co. - delayed efforts by at least 24 hours to restore power to two rural hospitals and a number of water systems in the Pine Belt.
The orders came from Dick Cheney's office, which placed calls on August 30 and 31.
"I reluctantly agreed to pull half our transmission line crews off other projects and made getting the transmission lines to the Collins substations a priority," [Jim] Compton [general manager of the South Mississippi Electric Power Association] said. "Our people were told to work until it was done....
Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Mike Callahan said the U.S. Department of Energy called him on Aug. 31. Callahan said department officials said opening the fuel line was a national priority....
Mindy Osborn, emergency room coordinator at Stone County Hospital, said the power was not restored until six days after the storm on Sept. 4. She didn't have the number of patients who were hospitalized during the week after the storm.
"Oh, yes, 24 hours earlier would have been a help," Osborn said.
Compton said workers who were trying to restore power to some rural water systems also were taken off their jobs and placed on the Colonial Pipeline project. Compton did not name specific water systems affected.
[Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Mike] Callahan said the process of getting the pipelines flowing would be difficult and that there was a chance the voltage required to do so would knock out the system - including power to Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg.
With Forrest General Hospital operating on generators, Wesley was the only hospital operating with full electric power in the Pine Belt in the days following Katrina.
"Our concern was that if Wesley went down, it would be a national crisis for Mississippi," Callahan said. "We knew it would take three to four days to get Forrest General Hospital's power restored and we did not want to lose Wesley."
Compton, though, followed the White House's directive.
While the Bush administration screwed the pooch, the Cheney administration had its eyes on the ball the whole time. That's certainly reassuring.