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.

We stayed up all night, and I could actually hear people taking plywood off doors. So we started getting really scared. We had weapons. Whatever we could find. We had one revolver, we had knives, pepper spray, ice hooks, an axe. It wasn't weird to see people walking down the street with an axe at this point. People were getting shot over ice and gasoline. By that next morning, the smell of the city was getting really bad. Dead people, sewage, dirty salt water, garbage, mold.

We went down to my friend's house the next morning. They had a vehicle and said yes, they wanted to go. They had to get all the gasoline together and they were going to come pick us up. They didn't get to us until Saturday evening. I don't even know what route we took. It was so hard to tell with downed trees and everything. We didn't know if we were going to be able to get out.

They had a six o'clock curfew, and this was after six. We packed our bags as if we wouldn't make it. We had flashlights and we were wearing face-masks, the SARS-type masks so we wouldn't have to breathe in. There were a lot of fires starting, a lot of arsonists. We did manage to get out and got to Baton Rouge. I think we were pretty much the only car on the road that wasn't military. It was all military behind us until we got out of the city.

Interview by Paul Demko




Harold, 56, last name withheld by request, politician/professional decorator and New Orleans native

Me, my mother, my aunt, my girlfriend and her mama made reservations to go to the hotel, the Lake Plaza in New Orleans. When we went to check in, we found out that the mayor had cancelled all the residents and left it over for police, fire, and hospital people.

Then a Zulu brother of mine made a place for us at La Maison Bleu, a bed and breakfast at 4333 Canal Street. Old antebellum home; beautiful place, man. Beautiful place. At that point, we thought we could ride it out, but the 17th Street canal broke and the water just came on down Canal Street. We were there two days, and when the water got too high, we decided to get out. Those boys from down in the river parish in their flat boats came to help. Nobody told them nothing. They just jumped in their flat boats. That's the boys who just like to fish for fun, and they were picking people up, picking people up.

There was a fence around the place, so they couldn't get the flat boat in. And this woman with them said, "I'm gonna go get my pirogue from my house." And she got through the shit, and got over there and picked up my mama and my aunt, put them in the pirogue, and rowed them out to a bigger boat. Then they came back and picked up me and my brother.

My mama's 85, her sister's 92. They brought us to Jefferson Parish. We had to get out and walk about four blocks through the water to get there. From there, they put us on a bus to the shopping center, where they were putting people on buses to Baton Rouge, and shipping them all over. I knew we had to get to Baton Rouge. It just so happened I saw a man with a church van. I walked up to the man, and I was ready to buy my way out. There were too many people, you understand what I'm saying? Thousands and thousands of people, screaming. I said, "I got $300 to get to Baton Rouge. Man, I need that van."

He said, "Put your money away. I'm a pastor. I'm here because I'm from New Orleans. I've come to help." He put us in that van, with two more people, and we left immediately. It was like a transfer stop, and the bus was there. The Lord was with us the whole way. We had comfort the whole way. We didn't go through none of this tragic stuff.

The man brought us to Baton Rouge, and we're staying with a friend of my mama's. They don't want us to pay no rent, or utilities. It's so big you could walk around naked. He said we can stay here as long as we want. We'll probably be here a year or a year and a half. Am I blessed, my friend? And I'm passing the blessings on to everyone I know.

My mama's house, my house, everything is gone. But guess what, my friend? We got each other and we got the Lord on our side. You want a laugh? Guess what I told my mama? I told her, "You ain't got to worry about no termites no more, you ain't got to worry about the garden no more, you ain't got to paint those walls no more."

You know what else? The greatest part? I'm divorced, my son just graduated from college, he's in Atlanta, he's straight, all I got is my mama, and guess what else I rid of? All the disgusting-ass women who were on my nerves. I'm getting me a whole new set of women. There's no other way I could've done that. Me and my friend been saying, "Katrina got a whole lot of things straight." And not just the terrible school system and old buildings. Katrina got a whole lot of things straight, my brother. A whole lot straight.

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