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.

There were about three blocks on my street that were dry. I took a bath before we heard that the water was contaminated, so I got really paranoid. We started boiling water as soon as possible because we didn't really have any. And then our water went off. And then the gas went off. We were riding our bikes around just to see who was in the neighborhood. I had a very small amount of food at the house, as part of my hurricane kit. Usually they only tell you to prepare for like three or four days. A friend of mine rode her bike by and she had a bunch of grocery bags. She told me that the grocery store was open. So we all decided to ride down there. My boyfriend looked at me and said, "These people aren't buying food, they're looting." And I looked at him and said, "I'm going in." We came to find out that the owner of the store actually showed up with the military and said, "Take what you want. I have insurance." He knew what was going to happen.

I knew that The Superdome floods. I remember the mayor talking about it when they were supposed to evacuate during Hurricane George. So I was not going down there. By this time, people were escaping from there to come back into the neighborhoods, telling people do not go down there. There's no food or water. There were people dying. There were people getting raped. You would go to the Superdome if you wanted to die, if you wanted to give up. A friend of mine sent a girl there and hasn't heard from her since.

We had a little bit of money between us. We were concerned about getting ice, food, and water. When we'd go to the grocery story there were lunch meats and other high protein foods that you would need ice for. Also with bags of ice you can let that melt and that water would be drinkable. There was an ice store. Someone stole their generator, so they started selling bags of ice for a dollar apiece and surrounding the ice place were armed guards with semi-automatic weapons in full military uniforms ready to shoot if anyone tried to steal ice. So we formed lines. The military were protecting the ice. I think we had like seven bucks in our pockets. So we got all that. That lasted for a day. It's so hot there.

There were no phones working at that time that we knew of. We had flashlights and we had battery operated lanterns. It got dark early and it was very dark. You had to stay in after dark. On the third day it started getting bad with gangs in the neighborhood. I guess after downtown was already done getting looted, they started coming into the neighborhoods because they knew people were evacuated. They paraded around in cars and they started stealing city buses. You would see a group of men in city buses with weapons driving down the street real slow. One even announced going down the street that he could rob the whole street. There were still no cops around.

We noticed that a lot more people were coming into our neighborhood, and we couldn't figure out how. We found out later that they were bringing helicopters and pulling those people from roofs, dropping them off in my neighborhood at a Navy base, and telling them to go to the buses to get evacuated to the Superdome. The problem is they didn't tell them how to get to the buses. The buses were getting stolen. These people had no flashlights, and they're wandering around at night soaking wet and scared.

I'm on medicine every day for my thyroid. [At one point] they opened up a drug store so I actually went back into the pharmacy to find my medicine and grab that. There was a line of old people saying, "I need my heart medicine," "I need my insulin." So we stayed in there for a while just helping the elderly get their medicines. If you can imagine an 80-year-old woman in water up to her knees, standing in a dark drug store just frantic and needing her heart medicine, there were a lot of people in there doing that.

We wanted to wait until the Superdome was all the way evacuated. We had plans to venture out and get evacuated after all those people were out of there. They finally dropped water off in our neighborhood. Four days after the storm they finally dropped water off--and not very much. Blackhawk helicopters would just drop pallets on the ground and everyone would run out of their houses like roaches and grab what they could and run back in. Around that time, I started to get sick. I had pain in my stomach.

We heard the military was coming in. We knew we were under martial law. I was out in the middle of the street taking photographs, and a Blackhawk helicopter came. We freaked out because we thought they were just going to pull us up. Everybody in the neighborhood was afraid of the military. They weren't our friends. The police were just scary at this point. There were trucks with a bunch of military in them, with their guns pointed out at us, saying, "Move off the road before I shoot!" We were warned on the radio that they were ordered to shoot to kill if we get into the way. How do you even know if you're in the way? That night a building blew up, like three or four blocks from us. We woke up to our whole house shaking. It turned out that it was a place where they kept big fireworks and there was kerosene in there. We didn't know if the military was starting to bomb places.

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