Hurricane Katrina-Our Experiences


送交者: xj 于 2005-9-08, 10:05:14:

Hurricane Katrina-Our Experiences

Larry Bradshaw, Lorrie Beth Slonsky

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's store at
the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display
case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without
electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were
beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked
up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City. Outside
Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the
windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The
cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit
juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did
not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing
away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home
yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a
newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or
front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the
Walgreen's in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images of the
National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the "victims"
of the Hurricane. 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.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the
French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like
ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter
from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends
outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources
including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the
City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because
none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with
$25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did
not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did
have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12
hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had.
We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born
babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the
buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived
to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was
dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime
as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked
their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the
convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the
City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would
not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had
descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole.
The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the
Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the
police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we
can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The
guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra
water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with
callous and hostile "law enforcement".

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were
told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water
to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to
decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command
post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly
visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we
could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short
order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He
told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway
and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up
to take us out of the City.
The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained
to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong
information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The
commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, "I swear to you that
the buses are there."

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great
excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals
saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We
told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few
belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in
strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and
others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up
the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did
not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the
foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing
their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various
directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched
forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told
them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's
assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The
commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there
was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank
was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in
their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not
crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain
under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an
encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center
divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be
visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated
freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same
trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned
away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be
verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented
and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot.
Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and
disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers
stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be
hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New
Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck
and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the
freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight
turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts.
Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community,
and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from
the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated
a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for
privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even
organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of
C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When
individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for
yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or
food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look
out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in
the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness
would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families
and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80
or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was
talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news
organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked
what they were going to do about all those families living up on the
freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us.
Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was
correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his
patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking
freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow
away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck
with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law
enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed
into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims"
they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay
together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small
atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered
once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought
refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were
hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were
hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and
shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New
Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search
and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a
ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the
limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large
section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and
were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The
airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of
humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed
briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast
guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort
continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were
forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have
air-conditioners. In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two
filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any
possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were
subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated
at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food
had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat
for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not
carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt
reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give
her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us
money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official relief
effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need
be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.



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