New Orleans: Survivor Stories

Beyond soundbites: detailed first-hand accounts from people trapped in the city after Katrina--what they did, what they saw, how they stayed alive.

In the first week-plus after Hurricane Katrina, it was impossible to turn on the TV, pick up a paper, or cruise news sites on the web without seeing pictures of storm survivors trapped in a drowning New Orleans. What we heard of their stories, though, was almost invariably limited to a couple of sentences--about their most harrowing moment, or how angry they were to be left so long, or how relieved they were to get out. Round about week two, "the survivors" morphed into a human interest beat, and stories about them began giving way to stories about the generous folk taking them into their homes.

The survivors all had stories to tell, whether they could bear to tell them or not. A few first-hand accounts by New Orleans survivors did circulate via email lists and get posted at websites; these were more revealing, and more gripping, than the reports news media offered up regarding conditions in the city during the days between the storm and the eventual evacuation. (One exception: Scott Gold's wrenching coverage in the LA Times.)

We wanted to hear more. So last week, CP reporters and stringers contacted about 30 of them and asked them to tell their stories. We interviewed some of the 1,000 or so Katrina survivors who have made it to Minnesota, and spoke to many more who remain in the area by phone. Here are a few of the stories we collected, and a dozen or so more are posted online at citypages.com/neworleans. The real measure of all that was done wrong by city, state, and federal governments, and of all that people trapped in New Orleans had to do and endure as a result, is in these tales and thousands of others like them.

--Steve Perry

 

Jason Fraude, 22, carpenter, resident of New Orleans' Lower Garden District

I just wanted for my whole life to see a storm like that. I got tired of watching it on TV. I wanted to see the force of Mother Nature up close. I felt safe. I was up on the second story, 17 feet off the ground, so when they were talking about these storm surges, I never really felt in danger. I prepared for it. We went and bought all kind of food supplies. We had those five-gallon containers of water. We had a 15-gallon bucket of rice that my friend Steve brought. It was the three of us--me, Steve, and Coy. We had ropes and harnesses in case we needed to tie off anything. We had an EMT kit. All kinds of medical supplies. We had a generator from the shop, twenty-some gallons of fuel. After they cut off the fuel, we had to siphon fuel out of our cars.

The day before the storm, it was a ghost town. There were very few people. Everything was boarded up. Nagin was saying that only emergency personnel were supposed to stay. It was going to be bad. But we had everything already, and it was like, no way, we're staying.

The night before the storm was fairly easy. We all hung out at the apartment, drank a couple of beers and watched the rain start to pick up. About 11:00, we were all like, hell, let's go to bed. I woke up about 2:30 when the wind started to smack the house pretty good. As soon as daylight came, around 5, you could see trees broken in half. The pool next door was full of limbs. There was about two feet of water in my street.

We stayed on my balcony the whole time. There was nobody on the streets. About noon me, Steve, and Coy all walked down St. Charles during the storm to go to the Avenue Pub. We met up with some people and we went down and had a couple Hurricanes. Walking there, we were taking on hundred-mile-an-hour gusts. The water was making little waves, dude, coming down St. Charles. Then we got to the Avenue Pub and they had the storm shutters and they were blowing and smacking. You had to open the door between gusts, because the wind would take it right off its hinges.

There were eight or nine people in there. We were all just kind of hanging out, really. Everybody was like, wow, yeah, check it out, talking about the destruction that you could see up and down St. Charles Street. It was eerie to be able to sit back and watch all this. None of us up there could really tell much about damage, because we pretty much stayed in the same spot throughout the storm. But as we were walking out and looking out at our area, wow, it was pretty bad. As you go further out, you notice more and more. By the time the storm was done--Coy, Steve, and I, we all had bikes. We decided to ride around the city on bikes right after the storm was done.

We went all around, dude. What we did first was we went down toward Canal Street. There was big clouds of smoke coming up, places were on fire. We went all the way down to Canal Street, where the overpass is, and the NAPA tire center there was up in flames, dude. There was this billowing cloud of smoke you could see from like 20 blocks away. We just kept riding. We got there and we crossed the canal overpass--well, we didn't cross the canal overpass. We went down Claiborne and crossed Earhart, and went on the walk path to go over there by Superdome. As soon as we got on the other side of the walk path, the water was already up to there. It was already two feet of water around the Superdome on the day of the storm.

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