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.

Interview by Jim Walsh



Jennie Lynn Waters, 62, legal secretary in the New Orleans city attorney's office

I lived at Napoleon and St. Charles Avenue. They call it Uptown. I lived on an old Mississippi levee. We're nine feet above sea level. At first, we had no problem. It was high and dry and beautiful. We went through the storm and the howling wind and lost our power at 5:15 Monday morning. I knew that was going to happen, so I cooked up everything I had in the freezer, knowing we could live on that for a while. I also had a screwdriver and a hammer and a hatchet, in case we had to get out. I was cooking up all the food, and my friends kept text-messaging me, telling me to get out: "Find the Red Cross and get out." I don't know anything about text-messaging, and I couldn't answer them because I'm old and don't learn those things very easily.

I finally went up the street and there were these tattooed, pierced kids, five of them. Things in their tongues and things in their eyebrows. I never would have spoken to these kids, had I not needed their help. But I told 'em, "I'm Jennie Lynn from apartment 5 from across the street, my son is trying to text-message me. Could you please show me how to answer him?" They laughed and they showed me how to do it, and I saw that they didn't have a whole lot. So I said, "Listen, are you guys hungry?" I brought them some catfish and bread.

The next day, they kept on me. I went over there and gave them one of my little radios and eight C-cell batteries, in case the original batteries ran out. The winds were pretty bad, but no big deal. They said, "Miss Ginny, we'd leave, but we don't have a car."

I said, "Sweetie, I don't have a car either. But I'm not gonna leave, because I've got my ferrets and my dad in town that I have to watch for." I only had five dollars in my pocket. I gave my son all my money and he went to Memphis with some friends. I told them they could take my son's car, it was the only car in the parking lot, but I said, "It's a clunker. It won't make it around the block. It doesn't even have a clutch."

One of the guys, his name was Zach, said, "Miss Jennie, I drove an ambulance in Iraq. I can drive that car out of here." So I gave them the keys. Meantime, my dad died Saturday. He died in the Methodist Memorial Hospice, which got hit with two or three stories of water, and all those people died. It was horrible. My dad couldn't have handled that. God is good. He spared Dad that.

Sunday was beautiful, Monday was okay, Tuesday was okay, and I took pictures of my friend's house and took pictures to show her that it was okay. I borrowed her rake and started cleaning up. Then all of a sudden, I see this car going up the street, and water was coming up under the wheels. Zach and I went to check it out, and the police said, "You're fine. You're high and dry." But Marrero, which is in Jefferson parish, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, was were pumping out their sewage and did something wrong, and backed that horrible stuff into our neighborhood. Within 15 minutes, the water rose up two feet, and those kids were beating on my door, pulling on my arm, telling me I had two minutes to get out.

They had already backed my son's car out into the street. How they did it, I don't know. The tail pipe was under the water. Zach [drove] up on the sidewalks, around downed power lines, trees, and we got out safely to the Crescent City connection.

We kept driving. We never stopped. We eased past people at red lights, and that old car made it out of there to Baton Rouge and Alexandria. I've kept in contact with those kids. They email me to tell me how they're doing. They made it all the way to San Antone in that car I thought wouldn't make it around the block.

Interview by Jim Walsh




Jeffrey Hills, 29, tuba player, resident of the Lafitte housing project

We rode the storm out at my house, which is on Orleans and Claiborne. It wasn't too bad inside and, thankfully, not one window broke. The trees outside were falling like bowling pins, and after the storm the water kept rising. By morning, the water was maybe four feet deep in front of the house. By the evening it was six, seven feet. We stayed for a day or two before they shut the water off to the apartment. Then we had to leave.

I had to walk through six feet of water. I put the kids up high on my shoulder and we walked to the nearest up ramp to the interstate, all the way to the New Orleans Convention Center. We stayed for there two and a half days. It was the worst thing I've ever been through in my life. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

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