On the evening of September 9, 1964, Hurricane Betsy came ashore near Grand Isle, Louisiana, as a Category 4 storm, with the National Weather Service reporting wind gusts near 160 mph. As the storm tracked inland, the city of New Orleans was hit with 110 mph winds, a storm surge around 10 feet, and heavy rain. Betsy devastated low-lying areas on the eastern side of the city and eventually led to the expansion of an already impressive levee system to protect a city that lay mostly below sea-level. After the storm passed, Louisiana Senator Russell Long, the son of the legendary Senator and Governor Huey Long, called President Johnson to get the President to tour the devastated areas. In Long’s unique style, he let the LBJ know that the Betsy had severely damaged his own home and had nearly killed his family.
LBJ arrived in New Orleans five hours after talking to Senator Long. Reporters noted that he was shocked by the suffering and in particular by thirst of survivors in one shelter. He immediately announced that the "red tape be cut," and he took personal control of operations, which he continued—according to the Washington Post—“day and night."