The highest-ranking official to tour the damage-stricken areas of Orange County is Major Gen. Douglas O’Dell Jr., who will report directly to two presidents on Hurricane Ike and needs along the Gulf Coast.

County Judge Carl Thibodeaux surveyed damage in Brigde City and other areas along with O’Dell, West Orange Mayor Roy McDonald, Bridge City Mayor Kirk Roccaforte and Vidor Mayor Ray Long. Thibodeaux said that while it isn’t time to celebrate just yet, he was encouraged by the general’s visit.

“It’s a glimmer of hope,” Thibodeaux said. “He is in charge of Gulf Coast recovery with the Department of Homeland Security. He talked with us about the problems and issues we are having. He took notes and listened to our concerns about problems with FEMA, the flood plain, issues with temorary housing and the fact the government’s not doing what it should be.

“We are seeing some homes trickling in, but there’s still much more to do.”

Thibodeaux said O’Dell will report directly to President Bush, as well as the winner of the Nov. 4 general election, Republican nominee John McCain or Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

O’Dell’s official title is “coordinator of federal support for the recovery and bebuilding of the Gulf Coast.”

When appointed in April, President Bush remarked in a White House press release, “O’Dell is an innovative problem solver with a wealth of experience in helping the people of the Gulf Coast region.

As the commanding general of the 4th Marine Division in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he employed over 2,700 Marines and sailors to evacuate thousands of civilians, deliver essential cargo and restore basic functions in more than 30 buildings. His strategic judgment during Hurricane Rita enabled troops to deliver relief almost immediately after the storm. He has earned the trust of many in the region, including state and local officials and is the right person for this important job.”

In a telephone interview with his alumni newspaper (The Hill School in Pottstown, Penn.), he said his first-hand experience with the devastation of Katrina provides him with knowledge of the “depth, breadth, and complexities” of the issues facing the Gulf states.

“My job will be to get the funding that now is in place down to the state, county, and parish levels,” he said. He added, “I want to make sure there is complete transparency in how the money is spent.”

He told the paper his top priorities include moving people now housed in trailers into clean apartments at no cost to them, “while at the same time accelerating efforts to build long-term housing solutions.” Additional priorities will include enhancing law enforcement; reopening and establishing clinics and hospitals; reopening and supporting schools; finding new businesses to relocate to the region or establish new operations there; and addressing the repair of bridges and roads, he said.

O’Dell will also report his findings to Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. A graduate of Rutgers with a bachelor’s degree in history and Latin American Studies, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He left active duty in 1974 but remained involved in the Marines while sustaining a successful career in investment management. He and his wife Judith have five sons.

Shortly after the attacks on Sept. 11, he was assigned to the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which was reorganized for anti-terrorism efforts.