Hurricane Katrina survivor stories
The category 5 hurricane Katrina hit Florida and the Gulf Coast in August 2005, causing total devastation of New Orleans and surrounding areas. This is a compilation of some of the survivor stories which have emerged from the crisis. Also see Hurricane Katrina commentary for links to DailyKos diaries featuring Katrina survivor stories.
From doing work for Red Cross in Houston last September, I recognize one of the people featured in the story. It breaks my heart that she is still unsettled, and still struggling to get by. She was not an isolated case, as the article points out. Big government is alwasy a target for waste and fraud. There are no shortage of news items highlighting people who tried to cash in on Katrina by abusing the system and hijacking generosity or inept people who misused money. Still, there are people who came out of Katrina needing long-term assistance. I realized how short a trip it is from getting by to not getting by as I talked to people while I was in Houston. There are real fault lines in our public safety nets.
The quest of Holy Cross School to find a new location presents an excellent overview of the status of education, public and private, in metro New Orleans since the storm. Immediately after Katrina, the Orleans Parish Public School system simply ceased to exist. It had no money, no students, and no employees, as most of the city evacuated and had not returned. Almost a year later, the school system exists only as a handful of charter schools operating in Algiers, the New Orleans neighborhood located on the west bank of the Mississippi. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) has control of most of the public education assets in the city. There is little hope for returning the city's school system to its pre-storm structure, and that's not a bad thing--the OPSS was an unmitigated disaster. What made it so easy for BESE to take over city assets was legislation passed in 2005 enabling the state to take over schools that were performing so badly that there was little hope of improving them while under local control. Public education in the city will continue in populated neighborhoods using the charter-school model.
I'm here in New Orleans, dealing with the reconstruction and relief effort. It's amazing how much still needs to be done here almost a year after Katrina. The richer areas of town are getting much more attention from the government than the poor areas are. Racism here is a major influence on both the people and law enforcement. We are still under martial law and the National Guard has been called back to deal with the violence that predominates the city. Murders happen almost every day. It's a sad situation, to put it mildly. My friend had one of her friends murdered just yesterday. Crime is rampant and opportunities are limited.
The risk of sexual violence against female evacuees and their children is increasing as extended family members and neighbors continue to be cramped into temporary housing nearly eleven months after Katrina hit. Verified rape cases have climbed to nearly 70 according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) located in Harrisburg, Pa, while Judy Benitez of the Louisiana Foundation for Sexual Assault (LAFASA) said in a June 13 article that an epidemiologist has confirmed at least 46 verifiable cases in their database. However, new rape cases are occurring due to the lack of housing, especially affordable housing, as speculating landlords jack up apartments up to New York City and San Francisco prices, often asking for deposits up to three times the monthly rent. As a result, people are living cheek-by-jowl, in living rooms, bedrooms and even in kitchens and bathtubs. There is no privacy and no room. Knowing New Orleans as I do, there is vermin: roaches, ants and mice. In such an limiting environment, and recovering from the horrors of Katrina over a long period of time, people--men--are bound to crack.
Katrina caused irreversible damage. Even entities with lots of money (OilCos) cannot or will not spend money to bring things back to where there were. Hydrocarbons production is down, and the region is no longer inhabitable - and won't be. The sudden destruction created (or unveiled) very real shortages in the supply chains. We've seen this elsewhere (see this diary on the lack of tires in the mining sector), but it appears that the extractive industries are increasingly struggling against shortages in many different sectors (drilling rigs, port capacity, transport, qualified personnel, specialised components, etc...) and unable to respond to demand, even when paying whatever price it takes. in the case of Katrina, this means that if the best endowed industry, with the strongest incentives to repair things cannot cope, everybody else is doing even worse and the region is most likely unable to rebuild and start again in any meaningful way.
Accompanied by images of soggy books and moldy walls, an October assessment report on a library branch in eastern New Orleans was to the point: "Fish in parking lot. Overturned bookdrops. Major flooding. Shelves collapsed, books floated in water," it said. "Closed indefinitely." ALA leaders said the Hurricane Katrina tragedy demonstrated nationwide the critical role public libraries can play in a disaster. Libraries in far-flung communities across the country offered Internet access to displaced residents desperate for information. Then, when those residents returned home, local libraries gave people a place to find housing, look for jobs, and share information. ALA officials take issue with a Federal Emergency Management Agency policy manual that doesn't list libraries among essential services after a disaster. "Everybody wanted to come down here, to do what they can to help in the recovery process," said Michael Dowling, an ALA administrator coordinating roughly 900 volunteers in New Orleans. "Libraries are kind of the heart of the communities. They're a cornerstone, a building block to community service, to democracy. This is an opportunity to raise awareness for the value of libraries to a community."
From NOLA is depressed
It seems to me that most people just don't understand what it feels like to live in New Orleans right now. I am not in New Orleans, but I lived there for several years in the past and still have many, many contacts in the city. I paid a visit for Mardi Gras and a few days after, and I'll be going back in a few weeks. Anyway, I talk often with people who are rebuilding the city and their lives and the overwhelming feeling that I have gotten from people is depression. A common refrain is "Please tell me what the hell I'm still doing here, because it doesn't seem worth it right now."
...legislators learned that the response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita spawned "one of the most extraordinary displays of scams, schemes and stupefying bureaucratic bungles in modern history, costing taxpayers up to $2 billion." Witnesses at the hearing described how prison inmates bilked FEMA of more than $10 million dollars in disaster funds, and described how "half a billion dollars worth of mobile homes" went to waste.
From Notes on crime in NOLA and should-be criminals in Baton Rouge, containing numerous links to blogs chronicling the current state of affairs in New Orleans
CRIME: Crime now seems to be completely out of control in the city. What else are we to think when Mayor Nagin requests that the National Guard be deployed in New Orleans to bolster an overwhelmed NOPD? But this does seem a bit odd when one considers the rhetoric that was heard in the run-up to the recent mayoral elections - Nagin claimed that crime was under control and had full confidence in his new chief of police. The challenger, Mitch Landrieu, did say that crime was rising and a new police chief was needed, but he said it very quietly. Really, crime was barely addressed at all in the campaign. And now, only a couple of months later, the National Guard is needed? O RLY? Could it be that perhaps the crime rate has been steadily rising for months, and the politicians swept it under the rug until there was an incident so heinous that it could no longer be ignored?
Living in New Orleans is a risk; a big risk with an uncertain future. It is difficult, from my end, to help stabilize patients as it is all too easy to fall into their way of thinking. You cannot lie but, at the same time, need to present the largest picture possible. I stay abreast of local happenings as much as I can as sometimes there's some good news. I have helped people come to the conclusion that they will have to move and other's have been able to come to grips with the challenges ahead and have decided they're up to them and will stay. One thing I know about us: New Orleanians appear as emotionally fragile as the old buildings of the Quarter even before the storm. But just like them, they somehow manage to endure.
Gina Barbe rode out the storm at her mother's house near Lake Pontchartrain, and says she has been crying almost every day since. "I thought I could weather the storm, and I did -- it's the aftermath that's killing me," said Ms. Barbe, who worked in tourism sales before the disaster. "When I'm driving through the city, I have to pull to the side of the street and sob. I can't drive around this city without crying." Many people who are not at serious risk of suicide are nonetheless seeing their lives eroded by low-grade but persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and stress-related illnesses, doctors and researchers say.
Our beloved New Orleans is still, 10 months after Katrina, in a state of rotting disrepair that just boggles the mind. From Biloxi all the way to Texas evidence of Katrina is like a visual kick in the guts. Most importantly, it's not just buildings that bear the mark of this incredible natural disaster, families and communities are still struggling to pull together and rebuild after the trauma of loosing everything.
As I have said elsewhere, it isn't. Outside the Isle of Denial, NOLA is largely a ghost town. The neighborhood I lived in when I was in grad school - around Burgundy and St. Roch - has started picking up. Mimi's and Big Daddy's and a lot of restaurants and coffee shops are open. But most of the city is still abandoned.
We have a government more content in spending untold hundreds of billions of dollars rebuilding what we destroy in Iraq, than we are in rebuilding what nature destroyed in New Orleans. I recently returned from a trip to New Orleans on business. The downtown and French Quarter are recovering, although there are still highrises with boards as windows, and the Superdome is still half uncovered.
As some of you know, I went to NOLA for Mardi Gras weekend - came back yesterday. Here are a few observations in no particular order. The amount of debris is still overwhelming. When you drive to NOLA from ATL, the entire stretch of I-10 from Mobile to NOLA is littered with debris. All of the vegetation is blown over. You drive miles and miles and all you see are brown trees blown over and rivers of debris. Once you get into Louisiana, there is complete devastation from Lake Pontchetrain to the high rise. All of the malls and businesses around Crowder Blvd. are closed. There are abandoned and burned out apartment complexes. Junked cars. Empty, rotting houses. I can't imagine what the people seeing it for the first time must have thought. It is right there off of the highway. No field trip required. Welcome to the Big Easy. The locals were holding their breath.
The water that drowned New Orleans was pumped out long ago, but the city still suffocates, it still gasps for breath. It's struggling to save itself, yet this time, the world isn't watching. Sure, President Bush made his 11th photo-op stop in New Orleans today, and Congress is set to approve billions in relief and levee repairs. Yet eight months after a great American city was destroyed, and just weeks before hurricane season again threatens the Gulf Coast, there is no national urgency, no sense of leadership, and no reminder that the horror of that day may repeat itself again.[snip] I'll never forget that mass of humanity in the Superdome. I'll never forget their screams, as they wailed through the television to me begging for water, for help, for mercy. I can't forget the limp baby, laying listless in its mother's arms as she walked barefoot on the burning hot pavement, seeking shelter from the sun. The bodies--"bodies" is such an impersonal word, isn't it? The mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, and grandparents strewn in the street, or floating face down, or being nibbled on by dogs. You can't just forget that horror. I look at New Orleans and I see August 29th all over again. But for others, the New Orleans they see is the one they saw during the wall-to-wall coverage of Mardi Gras: the colorful floats, the dry streets, the street pulsating with life. Off camera, the city still dies.
From Notes from NOLA
Well, I went back to NO last weekend. Here are some thoughts -- in no particular order. * Hurricanes make lots of firewood. Seriously. There are piles of wood three stories tall in the neutral ground. They have giant cranes on top of them that pick up pieces of the pile and drop them into wood chippers the size of trucks. Branches, leaves, massive oak stumps - all pulverized instantaneously. It smells like Christmas near the wood piles. It smells like rotten garbage everywhere else. * Your house can double as an ark. In Chalmette, the storm picked up all of the houses and floated them around until they smashed each other to bits or piled up in a giant house-jam. There are houses smashed up with other houses. Houses in the middle of the street. Houses broken in half and lots of empty spaces where houses used to be. It isn't like this for a couple of blocks. It is like this for miles and miles. When Aaron Broussard said "St. Bernard Parish is gone" he was speaking the truth.
It was a nice thought, I suppose, but he never got the chance anyway. For the past forty years or so, my grandparents lived in Chalmette, one of the towns just east of New Orleans that found itself under some ten feet of water. Like many people in that town, they had weathered through some of the worst storms in the region, and when Katrina came, they almost didn't leave. The water in their area covered all but the top of their roof. They would have drowned. Instead, they spent the next few weeks living with my mom, dad, brother, cousin, her husband, and her two daughters in the cousin's home in Tampa. They'd left New Orleans with only two or three days' worth of clothes and a few important documents. They didn't expect to lose everything.
Dysart said St. Bernard, the hardest-hit parish in the region, with all of its 40,000 structures seriously damaged or destroyed, has no way to house or feed volunteers. "In St. Bernard, we have no infrastructure. Nothing," Dysart said. "All of our churches are devastated. We have no hospitals. No supermarkets. The schools are destroyed." Camp Premier is about all there is in St. Bernard, except for a dollar store, a Home Depot and a few bars. "We literally have nowhere for volunteers to go," Dysart said.
This quote here from the WAPO article seems to summarize the local citizens feelings about the money "In Biloxi, Brown said she may receive as much as $40,000 in aid. But her house took on water up to the eaves, and the cost of repairs probably will far exceed that. Last week, her son was on her front porch, trying to make repairs. "You hear about billions of dollars coming from Washington," said Robert Brown, 58, a garbage truck driver. "But where is it?"
A few months ago, I posted a couple of diaries about the levees in New Orleans not being up to standard and being built with subpar materials. Partially because this has pretty much been blown off by the media, I had posted around a dozen diaries about New Orleans since Katrina hit (links are at the bottom of the diary). And now we are ten days away from the "official start" of hurricane season, and guess what? Yup, Homeland Security, the levees, and just about everyone else, is woefully unprepared to deal with the hurricanes. Maybe this is due to there not being a PDB entitled "Hurricanes determined to strike in the US", but a few reports out today don't give me the warm and fuzzies here.
Do you remember the film, Monster's Ball? You know, the film that won Halle Berry (as Leticia Musgrove) the Academy Award in 2002? Do you remember the ten-year-old boy who played Tyrell Musgrove, Leticia Musgrove's chocolate-obsessed son? You know, this little boy next to Halle Berry? Well, he's about 13 years old now. He lived in or near New Orleans. And he may not be alive.
"There's a lot more subsidence (sinking) than people ever thought. People don't realize that the subsidence is continuing to happen, it's not stopping," [Roy] Dokka [of the Louisiana Spatial Reference Center at Louisiana State University] said, noting that the issue affects planning for new levees as well as homes. "Over in east New Orleans, the 9th Ward, places like that, those places have sunk substantially over the last several years. Some of those places may be 1 to 2 feet lower than (residents) think they are."
We should call it quits not because New Orleans can't be made relatively safe from hurricanes. It can be. And not because to do so is more trouble than it's worth. It's not. Instead, the hammers and brooms and chain saws should all be put away and the city permanently boarded up because the Bush administration has already given New Orleans a quiet kiss of death.
"I've been thinking the last couple days the best thing to do is die." The man, speaking on a dull monotone, was slumped in a chair inside the steamy convention center here, waiting to see a doctor. He didn't want to come to the makeshift hospital, but a friend insisted. "I'd hardly had a drink in years," said the man. "Right after the hurricane hit, I just started drinking. If I stop drinking, the pain becomes so great it's unbearable."
We were strictly abandoned. They just left us. When we realized what was going on, it was too late. It was total chaos. The water was up to our chest. You had guys laying in the water trying to climb to the top of their bunks. You had older guys who didn't have any medicine who we were trying to help. And the way we got out was we had to kick the cell door for maybe like an hour or two. And the cell doors, they sits on this hinge. You have to kick it off the hinge. And when you kicked it off the hinge you have to slide out the door. And Templeman III is -- I'm trying to explain it as best I could. It's two levels. You had an upper level and bottom level. The guys on the bottom level was totally stuck in this water. Lights was out. So we had to get out on the top level and come down and help those guys. And the police, they had left.
I can't imagine what our house would be like if we had had five feet of water made toxic with oil, chemicals, and decomposing bodies sitting inside for several days or longer. Or imagine how I would feel if there was nothing left of my home but a bare slab. Or even worse, God forbid, how I would feel if I was family to one of the 220+ Mississippi casualties of this storm - bodies are still being pulled out of the Gulf or found under wreckage. Everyone I have spoken with these past weeks all speak a common phrase. Everyone, no matter how much they lost, says about themselves and their family "It could have been worse. We were lucky." I think we all say "We were lucky" because we are the ones still alive.
More than three weeks have passed since Hurricane Katrina assaulted New Orleans, and yet, this government has exactly 15 paid workers devoted to the task of finding 3,783 children, discovering how many of them are dead or alive, and uniting those who are still alive with their families. The call center has opened 788 cases in this week alone, a crushing case load for only 15 workers..."As of noon Friday, a special hot line set up at the national center's headquarters in Alexandria, Va., had taken 16,275 calls from people looking for information on missing children or family members. In Louisiana, the state hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina, the center has opened 3,783 cases of missing children or children looking for their parents, an increase of 788 cases since the beginning of the week. Combined with calls to its permanent hot line, the center has taken more than 25,000 calls. This week, 3,752 calls have come in. "Parents are just now getting organized enough to get to a phone or some means of communication," said Ben Ermini, executive director of case management operations for the center."
John, 44, laborer. Had been in New Orleans four months. I intended to relocate there. I like it here. I like it here. I'm planning on staying. I like it. I never been in a hurricane before. I was reluctant to leave, to evacuate. I hung out. I wanted to see what it was like. Bad mistake. Luckily for me, they had I guess groups of - whoever they were - making people evacuate. I don't know if they were the police or National Guard or whoever. There were groups of men clearing the streets, saying, 'Hey, you got to get to the Superdome. There's going to be like ten feet of water here.' So I said, 'OK.' I went to the Superdome. It turned out to be a nightmare there. It was worse than what they say. You had to see it to believe it. It was unbelievable. It was terrible. It was a nightmare. I was glad when the busses finally came. He was in the Superdome for five days. They were giving us two K-rations a day, and a bottle of water with each meal. You ended up being dehydrated because it was so hot, you'd sweat so bad you looked like you got out of a swimming pool. You were soaking wet. They weren't giving us a lot of water. Once in a blue moon they'd bring a little shipment of water, and the water shipment would get attacked by the people. They were desperate for water. Everyone was dehydrated, and they were afraid if they didn't get it, they'd miss out on it because there were so many people there. I don't know how many. Personally, I think it was about fifty thousand. It was packed. So when they'd bring a golf cart full of water on that rare occasion, you had hordes of people rushing that cart trying to grab it.
'We just got back from Mississippi. It is hard to imagine the devastation if you haven't seen it for yourself. Television doesn't do it justice ..' 'Where we were in Waveland, Ms (just west of Bay St. Louis, where the hurricane made landfall), a huge storm surge came in. The amount of water in people's houses varied according to the landforms: from about 1 1/2 feet up to about 30 feet. I would say about 90% of the houses are either totally destroyed or now covered in mold and hazardous to health. Most people who stayed through the storm, or returned afterwards to find their houses in ruins, are living in their yards in tents and tarps and, if they're lucky, rv's and trailers. Or else they are staying in nearby towns and shelters and coming down to try to salvage anything from their houses and yards.
The stench is really something all around here, at least to me. It is over 100 degrees with the same humidity, these towns smell horrific...fear, death, dying, mold, and very much like chemicals. ...The suffering is relentless, the aid from the government agencies and the 'help' agencies are all lacking hugely. FEMA claims their hands are tied by Washington....who knows. I'm on the ground, seeing human suffering and squallor conditions in AMERICA and I keep reminding myself I am NOT supposed to be living in a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY...when I see this for miles and miles and listen to the stories, I believe that this part of AMERICA is THIRD WORLD... Oh, yes, they are refugees, the ones with no place to go and nothing but the clothes on their back...in fact they say they are the 'forgotten refugees of America'.... AMERICA .... The failing to help our CITIZENS... I do believe that if it weren't for the individuals and grassroots that are all over this hurricane ravaged area, there would be worse death tolls, as I believe we have saved many... For those that want to travel here, do NOT wait for an invitation. Bring a pickup truck or van, fill it with cleaning supplies, school supplies, diapers, food and water and pick a town or area you want to 'help' and make it happen. You MUST go door-to-door and talk to people, take your time and let them tell their story to you and 'suggest' that they help themselves to what you have...PLEASE TAKE THE INITIATIVE...don't wait for direction. When you run out of supplies...drive around, find a church that has alot of supplies or ASK where a warehouse is with them, then get more and do it again...do it until you drop with exhaustion. The pain, suffering and seeing the failure of our government will overwhelm you, but getting a hug and being called an angel just because you care enough to knock on a door and tell them they are NOT forgotten...my GOD, there is no greater gift in my life right now then these incredibly beautiful AMERICANS.
I had to sleep on the ground outside Wednesday night, right by the Convention Center, because we had the children in the van. Before that I was making trips back and forth all day. It was me and my sister-in-law the whole trip. It was horrible. It was just wild out there. It was all right 'til the police came with the press. Once the press came, things changed. The police was down with you taking food and all that, 'cause they was trying feed everybody. Then when the press came, they made it look like people was just looting. A lot of people wasn't looting just to be looting. They were really feeding people. You didn't want to see a lot of old people and babies crying for water and stuff. I watched my mother-in-law cry for some water. That part was just sad. I had to watch a couple people die. I watched more than a couple, I watched like about five people die, because I was walking back and forth the whole night. The police shot a couple people. It was about the worst situation in my life. I have never been in a situation like that. I seen people dying like flies. Everywhere I went I seen somebody dying, 'cause in the midst of all of that, I'm still looking for my wife...
From HURRICANE KATRINA: FOUR DAYS AT THE DOME, the account of the Colonel in charge of helicopter operations for the Superdome
What follows is the story to the best of my recollection of the four days after Katrina made landfall while performing as the flight operations officer at the Super Dome as part of the Army National Guard aviation task force which came to be known as Task Force Eagle. It is a story of how a hand full of soldiers and officers forged an ad hoc flight operations team that turned a single pad heliport into “Eagle Base” -- the center of gravity for rotor-wing disaster relief operations in the City of New Orleans. The Eagle Base team directed the efforts of 150 rotor-wing helicopters from every branch of the service, to include Army National Guard, Regular Army, Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, civilian MEDEVAC and law enforcement. Aircraft types consisted of UH60, CH47, OH58, UH1, H3, CH53, UH65, Dauphine II, and a variety of civilian aircraft. Their missions included search and rescue, MEDEVAC, resupply, displaced civilian evacuation, sling load operations, troop air movement, fire suppression, command and control, VIP and space-A transport. At 2100 hours I floated over submerged cars and trucks from Building 35 at Jackson Barracks (The Louisiana National Guard State Area Command Headquarters) in a John Boat to the levee on the Mississippi located south of the barracks. Here I linked up with a UH60 for movement to the Super Dome. Upon arrival, I was marshaled to quarters at an office complex inside the north side of the Dome. Once there I joined Colonel Barry D. Keeling, Commander of Task Force Eagle. We walked through the Dome to the Joint Operations Center which was on located on the south side at ground level. The situation at the Dome was overwhelming. It had been a collection point for evacuees since D-2. Armed Guardsmen and the New Orleans Police Department had devised a system of barriers to funnel traffic and a reasonable sense of order existed. The Dome’s displaced civilians had MREs, water and power, but you could cut the tension in the air with a knife. I estimated the crowd at 20,000-25,000. At that time the Louisiana National Guard contingent, including the joint staff was 600-700 strong.
An Unusual Group of Survivors? Or just a Group of Survivors No Matter The Odds! They're out there. The shooters, the choppers, the looters, the lines, the foul water and the bodies. Especially the bodies. "But we're in here," says Victor Fruge. Others -- hundreds of thousands of them -- had also escaped from New Orleans. But few could match the extraordinary, even miraculous odyssey of Fruge and his comrades -- 16 mentally ill men and recovering addicts, cast out of their group home, Abstract House, by the storm. For a week the men stuck together through Hurricane Katrina and its rising waters, following a survival instinct like a candle in the dark and gamely caring for each other as they traveled unsupervised for nearly 500 miles. They arrived at dawn in Houston, a sprawling and unfamiliar city among the thousands of hurricane refugees who have made the exodus to Texas, but without a friend in sight. Along the way they ate and slept in at least four different shelters and caught rides on four different means of transport, always clutching the psychotropic medications that keep their imaginary devils at arm's length while the real world around them sunk into a deeper hell.
...These people sent their kids to Texas and want to go there...it's a town south of Houston, the name escapes me now. These people have NOT seen the RC and scavange for food/water. She drove for an hour and waited in line for 9 hours to fill out the paperwork for getting RED CROSS vouchers and then was given a NUMBER and told to come back on MONDAY. Now you might think, well they must be in the middle of no where...WRONG, these people are on the ROAD THAT ALL THE GOVERNMENT agencies take to the main control center at least 10 times daily. FEMA never even got people to remove the trees off their roof, they had FRIENDS show up finally. At my little 80 year old ladies home, I find out they haven't seen the RED CROSS for 2 days and they were out of food and water and needed medical attention and meds. I got them all of that. While there, their young neighbor talked with the photo journalists who requested I talk to him and I find out that the RED CROSS REFUSED to talk to him, much less help him. This is a 36 year old man who has a wife with POLIO and they are living in a church with NOTHING. FEMA won't talk to them, they have no phone, etc.
...My time at the hotel ran out, it was booked, and there were no other hotels to take my family, I have four kids, and my sick mother South of Jackson needed supplies. For a week we lived in what I thought could be hell on earth, washing clothes in a bucket with whatever water I could get. The ice we did get we had to drive miles for on scanty gas rations. Twenty dollars of gas if you sit in line for three hours. Where I was wrong in those early days, was that hell was only beginning, I set for my hometown on the Coast, Bay Saint Louis, and the world crumbled into a kaliedescope of disturbing images, desperation, six hour lines for relief services, abundant MRE's, and the oppressive heat that challenges the stongest willed to keep on keeping on. There is no excuse for the hell that people have had to suffer through these last 18 days. If there are final days about us, it is the Gulf Coast that has seen the first of the last.
here were 257 Louisiana National Guard troops INSIDE the New Orleans Convention Center from the Tuesday after Katrina until Thursday. They cowered in the back for two days, helped nobody, then evacuated themselves. I heard about it on All Things Considered, WaPo also mentioned it yesterday, but for some reason I seem to be among a vanishingly small number outraged. The thought that 257 troops were not only incapable of assisting American citizens in distress in the same building with them, not only apparently incapable of defending themselves from people who desperately wanted help, but were apparently incapable of communicating the conditions inside the Convention Center to authorities outside boggles my mind. And it was okay with everybody up the line...
I spent several days under the Causeway Bridge for I-10, with only the clothes on my back. It was muddy and stank like nothing I have every smelled before. It was way too crowded, but I did get to see Jesse Jackson who came to help our people. I got there by taking a boat down Delachaise Street to St. Charles, and walked from St. Charles to Napoleon to a bus to go to Houston, but was instead dropped at the causeway bridge. The water was all in my house when I began making my way to safety. I had nothing to eat for days, and could not eat the food here in the Convention Center, so I guess I had not eaten for six days when Mister Robert found me exhausted in the Convention Center and took me out to eat for some Crab meat bisque to get my strength back up. Now we have become friends, and I have my own place to sleep again tonight.
"I thank God this ordeal is over," she said after being released from the parish jail. "I did nothing wrong."
A 73 year old woman was arrested in Gretna, LA the day after Hurrican Katrina hit, for taking $63.50 worth of food from a local grocery store because she was the only person the police could catch. She was held on FIFTY THOUSAND dollars bail. I'll say that again. FIFTY THOUSAND dollars bail. Even FEMA got involved in trying to get her released, but it took SIXTEEN days and an AP article to win her freedom. She will still have to appear in court on charges. Even the owner of the store she allegedly took the food from doesn't want her charged. This is ludicrous. Yet another victim of the mindset that values property over people.
Maten interviewed on CNN
[Anchor Soledad O'Brien's question]The owner of the Check-In Cash-Out Deli, which was the deli that you were accused of looting, has said that she's not going to press any charges, but you do have another court date. That's Christine Bishop (ph) right there, the owner. You do have another court date in October, October 14th. You're out on your own recognizance now. What happens? MATEN: After that, they took me to Gretna, and I stayed there for I think about five days, six days. They moved me from there and brought me by the Greyhound bus station, and the train station, where I slept there on the ground. And from there, no one told us where we were going, just put us on the bus. And from there I went to San Diego.
My friend Joe, a Navy guy, sent me the following e-mail from St. Bernard Parrish, just outside of New Orleans: "it looks like we could be leaving soon. where we are at (st bernard parish right outside new orleans) is apparently all white and pretty redneck. They have been telling the chiefs off the boat they dont want any 'niggers' off the boat helping out... it is angering some of the higher ups onboard. supposedly the general who is in charge here went to the (whatever the head of a parish is called)'s house with the second in command off my ship and he wouldnt let the general in because he is black. he let the two guys off my ship in, and the general had to wait outside. fuck! i am amazed we havent left already! the general outranks everyone here!" [sic]
The story of Edgar Hollingsworth brings me to tears. This man could be my late father. Did Mr Hollingsworth work his entire life, then retire ? (like my father)... "...In the past few days, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has ordered searchers not to break into homes. They are supposed to look in through a window and knock on the door. If no one cries out for help, they are supposed to move on. If they see a body, they are supposed to log the address and move on...Fell broke the rules and ordered his men to bash open the door, launching a series of events that would save a man's life and revitalize California Task Force 5 from Orange County...But Tuesday, 16 days after Hurricane Katrina smacked this aging community in the face, an unconscious and emaciated man identified as Edgar Hollingsworth, 74, was rescued. The man is expected to survive...Medics from California Task Force 5, which had been searching in the same neighborhood, were eventually able to get intravenous fluids through a vein under the man's clavicle in an intricate curbside medical procedure that may have saved the man's life... The man had been lying on the couch in his locked and sweltering home."
The latest situation in this entire matter is that the young man, Miles is his first name, has chosen to park his airboat and just let the military and Coast Guard conduct the final recovery effort. Miles went to Louisiana with a pure heart and the best of intentions; after receiving an armed escort to the "control" center, he was met by a man with poor judgment and no clue of the consequences of the decisions he was making. Miles, and others, were turned away - and more people died. Would you please help me to inform so many wonderful people who have kindly offered money to help pay for the gasoline for Miles? Their generosity, although gratefully acknowledged, will not be needed in this matter.
When I visited Camp Draper last Wednesday, I expected to meet people who were angry about unknowingly being flown to a state that couldn't be more different from Louisiana. What I found were people who were happy to be safe and who wanted nothing more than to share their stories, especially those who had been trapped in the New Orleans Convention Center without food and water. "There were horror scenes all over," says 20-year-old Cornell Perkins. "People scouring for food, water, Pampers for babies. Two or three babies died. It was very tragic. " Perkins was in the convention center for four days until a charter bus picked him up and took him to the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. How did he feel when he found out he was on his way to Utah? "I felt bad at first. I'm like, what are we doing in Utah? I thought we were going to San Antonio like the National Guard told us. Man, we wound up far away from the south, but I've adjusted and I'm about to start my life over here in Utah."
All the patients have stories to tell, most of them horrifying. One woman, who came in to get blood pressure medicine and to treat a skin rash, said:
You will never know what happened in that city during the flood. We saw people climbing to the attics of the houses, and then the water rose to where the whole house was under water. I'm sure those people never made it out. They died in their houses. I saw women with three-day-old babies in the Superdome, in the pitch black all night. With people shooting and dying. All you see in TV is the looters. But people were breaking into stores to get food. No one knew when help was coming. It was days, and we thought they had forgotten about us. There were old people, sick people. They should have sent in the army right away, but no one did anything. You will never hear the real story of what happened in those days.
...the real travesty was how a nearby hospital was completely closed to all civilians and non-military patients because Bush was slated to visit the hospital. ...The emergency room was closed and ambulances were forced to reroute their emergency patients to other hospitals. In many emergencies, a few minutes can be the difference between life and death. Life is more important than a presidential visit. Furthermore, surgeries and other medical appointments were also postponed. The cancer center was closed, and all chemotherapy and radiation appointments had to be rescheduled. Anyone who has read about such treatments knows that the effectiveness of killing cancer cells depends heavily on the treatment schedule. Most chemotherapy patients have weekly treatments. The medicine is created as such to allow for the maximum amount of damage to cancer cells while letting healthy cells recover. Getting off of the schedule, for any reason, can be disastrous.
I have contacted the Salvation Army as well as attending a big disaster relief effort they had at the Boutwell auditorium in Birmingham. To date, I have not received a single cent of aid from anyone. I have worked for the past 18 years of my life and am now homeless due to Katrina. I had to use rent money that was two months past due in order to evacuate. Now, I cannot even pay that past due rent, much less the rent for August. I see so many people donating to the relief effort. However, you should know that if the people were not lucky enough to get to the shelters, they are receiving no aid whatsoever. There are thousands like myself that will not receive a dime of aid and will remain homeless because of Katrina.
From Denise Moore's Story
The first day (Wednesday) 4 people died next to her. The second day (Thursday) 6 people died next to her. Denise told me the people around her all thought they had been sent there to die. Again, nobody stopped. The only buses that came were full; they dropped off more and more people, but nobody was being picked up and taken away. They found out that those being dropped off had been rescued from rooftops and attics; they got off the buses delirious from lack of water and food. completely dehydrated. The crowd tried to keep them all in one area; Denise said the new arrivals had mostly lost their minds. They had gone crazy. Inside the convention center, the place was one huge bathroom. In order to shit, you had to stand in other people's shit. The floors were black and slick with shit. Most people stayed outside because the smell was so bad. But outside wasn't much better between the heat, the humidity, the lack of water, the old and very young dying from dehydration... and there was no place to lay down, not even room on the sidewalk. They slept outside Wednesday night, under an overpass. Denise said yes, there were young men with guns there. But they organized the crowd. They went to Canal Street and "looted," and brought back food and water for the old people and the babies, because nobody had eaten in days. When the police rolled down windows and yelled out "the buses are coming," the young men with guns organized the crowd in order: old people in front, women and children next, men in the back, just so that when the buses came, there would be priorities of who got out first.
...Only by the grace of God, by a miracle, a local volunteer came with a speed boat to our back yard. He picked up the entire family, took us to a dry area, where a truck got us to the convention centre. There, we were told a bus would be coming to take us to the Astrodome in Houston. We thought it would be a matter of one or two hours. But it didn't come. There was no organisation, no one to ask. But it was a relief not to fear any more that we would be trapped by the water. We still had hope that a bus would come soon. The night was just incredible. Lunatics, unruly people, scared the hell out of people. There were shots, everybody was in panic mode. There was no security, no police. We have been trying to make the kids as comfortable as possible but it is not easy." Thursday They told us a buses were available to move us out. We all lined up and waited for hours in the sun. No buses came, not a single bus. We were still getting no water or food. We drank and ate what we managed to bring, soda and cereals. People were sharing what they had...
Rather than die on the streets of New Orleans, a young guy named Jabbor Gibson grabbed on an abandoned bus and drove 7 hours straight to Houston, rescuing complete strangers, including women and children, according to the Houston Chronicle... 'About 100 people packed into the stolen bus. They were the first to enter the Houston Astrodome, but they weren't exactly welcomed.'
From Three Days in Hell by TPMCafe author Pascal Riche
"[French Tourists at Louisiana's Superdome]...They evacuated people towards the barriers. A pregnant woman’s water broke. Twice we heard gunshot and everyone dove for cover. We didn’t have anything to eat, only water. The soldiers didn’t car. Sometimes they joked amongst themselves. Once, a guy near the barrier had an epileptic attack. He was drooling and everything. We said to the soldiers, “Get him out of here for Christ’s sake!.” But a soldier said, “it will stop and he’ll be alright.” One time, to amuse themselves, the soldiers threw bottles as hard as they could into the crowd, like in baseball. A woman was hit in the head. The Navy arrived and it was even worse: the soldiers did not stop yelling at us.
"...What you will not see, but what we witnessed,were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded. Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water [there follows an incredible description of three days of needlessly abusive, gratitiously insulting treatment by NO police and military].
In the chaos that was Causeway Boulevard in New Orleans last Thursday, one group of survivors stood out: a 6-year-old boy walking down the road, holding a 5-month-old, surrounded by five toddlers who followed him around as if he were their leader. They were holding hands. Three of the children were about two years old, and one was wearing only diapers. A three-year-old girl, who wore colorful barrettes on the ends of her braids, had her 14-month-old brother in tow. The 6-year-old spoke for all of them, and he told rescuers his name was Deamonte Love.
We left the house and we went up on the roof of a school. I took a crowbar and I burst the door open on the roof of the school to help people to get them up onto the roof of the school. Later on we found a flat boat and we went around in the neighborhood in the flat boat getting people out of their houses and bringing them to the school. We found all the food that we could and we cooked and we fed people. But then, things started getting really bad. By the second day, the people that were there that we were feeding and everything, we had no more food, no water. We had nothing, and other people were coming into our neighborhood. We were watching the helicopters go across the bridge and airlift other people out, but they would hover over us and tell us, "Hi," and that would be all. They wouldn't drop us any food, any water, nothing. Alligators were eating people. They had all kind of stuff in the water. They had babies floating in the water. We had to walk over hundreds of bodies of dead people, people that we tried to save from the hospices, from the hospitals and from the old folks' homes. I tried to get the police to help us but I realized we rescued a lot of police officers in the flat boat from the district police station.
"I waved a middle finger at [Vice President Dick Cheney's] caravan," Marble wrote. After driving the extra 20 minutes and filming video of destruction along the way, he made it to his home. Marble overheard a neighbor say that Cheney was down the street talking to people. That's when he got the idea to go meet Dr. Evil himself. "I am no fan of Mr. Cheney because of several reasons," Marble wrote. "For those who don't know, Mr. Cheney is infamous for telling Senator [Pat] Leahy 'go fu** yourself' on the Senate floor. Also, I am not happy about the fact that thousands have died due to the slow action of FEMA, not to even mention the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, i.e. Iraq."
From We Looted to Live; an account of Liverpool tourists in New Orleans during Katrina
British tourists trapped in their hotel survived on American Army rations and used bottles of spirits to clean the toilets as conditions deteriorated. The family barricaded themselves in their hotel when the storm hit and said the aftermath of the hurricane saw gunshots, explosions and looting every night in the lawless city. Mr Scott said: "The American people were fantastic, they couldn't do enough for us. I wish I could say the same for the American authorities. "We had 72 Army ration packs for 40 people for five days. "We had to break into all the vending machines in the hotel and we got all the snacks out of those. "I have nothing but contempt for the American authorities. The only person who seems to be trying to do anything is the Mayor of New Orleans and that man is banging his head against a brick wall."
John Tucker, 26 Searching for his mother Patricia Tucker ...The storm hit on Sunday and I was at home with my mother who has heart failure and uses a pacemaker. On Tuesday she didn't have any medicine, so I had to get her to a hospital. The police came on a boat and took her to the hospital. I stayed at the house without food until Sunday when it was mandatory for us to leave. Then I got on a plane and here I am. ...No. They didn't say anything until we got on the plane. On the plane, we said, 'Can you tell us where we're going?' And they said, "Uh, we don't know." I think they knew because if we had a choice, we'd say, 'We ain't going to Utah.' This was my first time flying so it was a big experience. ...They helped for most of it, but there was a lot of looting going on. They came and said we had to leave because the water was contaminated. ...No, I don't know where [my mother] is. I'm here by myself. She left Tuesday and I left Sunday. I'm guessing she's in Houston. I'm kinda messed up because I'm here by myself. ...I don't have anything right now. I don't have anything. No clothes. This is all new to me. Everyone has been nice, but I feel that since I'm out here, I need to do something because I don't have anything. My mother's house is destroyed. I want to get a job. I was a cook in New Orleans, so if I can get a job and make some money, I'll stay out here until I find my mother.
We (my family) have literally lived off the good work of the Red Cross and the Salvation Army for the past few days. Those meals-ready-to-eat aren't all that bad when you're starving for something more than doritos or cheese crackers. Until yesterday, the county our house is in (Covington) was not listed a disaster area, making it unable to receive federal assistance. With a lot of phone calls and plenty of pleas from local news, it was finally added. The federal government, under our lame duck president, is making every attempt possible to save money at the expense of people's lives... [in the comments section] Many smaller, rural towns have been completely overlooked. Waynesboro, south of Hattiesburg, had one refrigerated truck and a parking lot full of grills. They fed the entire town until the trucker needed his truck back. They said no one had been to the city to help, they needed all any supplies they could get. This was a couple of days ago. News is sporatic. I'm working on getting south to help, but I'm not sure if the highways are still closed south of Hattiesburg.
There they packed all of us pet owners from Mid City into a cargo truck and drove us away. They promised they would take us to Baton Rouge, and from there it would be relatively easy for me to get a cab or bus and meet the family in Jackson. But then everything went to hell. They instead locked up the truck and drove us to the refugee camp on I-10 and Causeway and dropped us off. Many refused to get out of the van but they were forced. The van drove away as quickly as it could, as the drivers appeared to be terrified, and we were suddenly in the middle of 20,000 people. I would estimate that 98% of them were African Americans and the most impoverished people in the state. It was like something out of a Kafka novel. Nobody knew how to get out. People said they had been there 5 days, and that on that day only 3 buses had shown up. I saw murdered bodies, and elderly people who had died because they had been left in the sun with no water for such a long time. I’ve traveled quite a bit, and I have never seen the despair and tragedy that I saw at this refugee camp. It was the saddest think I have ever seen in my life. I am still so upset that there were not hundreds of buses immediately sent to get these people to shelters. There was a group of officials going around and taking people’s animals away. It was then that I decided to try to escape...
Meanwhile, two of the first Australians to return from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina say they feared for their lives when they were evacuated to the city's convention centre. Pamela Whyte, 59, and her niece, Karen Marks, 25, arrived back in Melbourne this morning. They were in New Orleans for a three-week holiday, and spent seven days at the centre scavenging for food and water. They say the days after the hurricane were terrifying. "One night there we could have sworn black and blue we had gunshots. That was the first night, there was panic, and before we knew it we were at the front door, there was a stampede of people, we were at the escalator, we just, like this, I've never run so fast," she said. "Then every night after that we just heard these strange noises, enough to panic the people."
Just got out last night. I could have stayed , my supplies would have lasted for seven more days But, the fires have started. The reports of looting downtown are exaggerated. Yes, they broke into the grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations, for food, etc. Canal street had a few hours of thugs doing sports shops, but all other shops and the ENTIRE French Quarter is safe and untouched. The storm did glass and roof damage and trees UPTOWN. Just needs to be swept. Looks LESS dirty than a typical Mardi Gras day. I was never threatened. 99.9% of our people are heroic, stoic, and human beings of great quality.
From Return From Hell Account of Irish tourists in NO
Among the returning Irish was Conor Lally, a student at Queen's University in Belfast. "We are the lucky ones," he said. "Many people are still left there." Conor and two friends told of riots, rape and gang warfare. "It was terrible," he said. "The city was totally unprepared. The US government has a lot to answer for." Jean Wheatfield and Michael Leyden, who went to New Orleans on their honeymoon, were airlifted to safety by the military. They were caught up in gun battles, threatened by gangs and witnessed a massive explosion. "I honestly thought we were going to die," Jean said. Conor Lally (20), Thomas McLaughlin (20) and Patrick Clarke (21), all from the village of Blackrock, near Dundalk, had spent almost a week trapped in the New Orleans Superdome. They told of a city abandoned by the US government, where soldiers were shot dead with their own guns and where 38,000 terrified storm survivors were herded together, surrounded by sewage. They had been in the midst of riots, rapes and gang warfare, and while delighted to be back in Ireland, they could not shake the memories of the homeless left behind.
In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through, it would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside, we were told, evacuees would be told where the bus was taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas, for example, even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come within 17 miles of the camp... ...There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the camp to set up any sort of transparent and consistent system, for instance a line to get on buses, a way to register contact information or find family members, special needs services for children and infirm, phone services, treatment for possible disease exposure, nor even a single trash can.