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 no blue uniforms in the convention center. The only police car I saw was missing wheels and had bullet holes in it. So we just took over a corner and guarded our kids. There was no running water. No lights. It was hot. Tens of thousands of people. All kinds of things happening that I don't care to remember. Old people were dropping dead right next to us. We saw people dragging out bodies in garbage bags.

We were trying to figure out what was going to happen next, whether there would be any water or food provided. The National Guard came in and would say that they were about to unload supplies. But we found out that was a lie--just a plot to calm some citizens down who were being rowdy. I kept thinking, How am I going to get out of this alive with my wife and kids? How are my children going to survive if anything happens to me? Staying alive was the main thing I could think about because there was fighting all over. People were trampling each other. We heard gunfire. Then we found this large room in back--I was familiar with the building from playing gigs--and took shelter in there. It was a little bit cooler than in the main room of the Convention Center.

When we woke up Friday morning, we heard that a couple of kids were missing. Later on, they were found in the bathroom with their throats slit and possibly raped. I'm talking about young kids--from the age six to eight. I didn't see anything, but the parents verified that their children were found dead. Word gets around in an enclosed place like that.

When we found out about the kids, we took off in the rain, walking blindly. We didn't know where we were going. We were heading for the interstate when we saw this RTA bus--that's the city transit of New Orleans--and the lady driver was nice enough to pick us up. We were trying to go across the river to the west bank, but they had something else in store for us.

The driver missed a turn on the way to Baton Rouge, so we wound up in Lafayette at a shelter, where we spent two and a half more days. That's when we caught up with my sister. She lives out here in Mississippi. She is blessed enough to have a church congregation get a big enough vehicle to pick up all 12 of us. They drove to Lafayette and brought us here.

I'm supposed to go to Arizona tomorrow. I'm going to try to play some music and make some money. I'm going to have to leave my family behind and make sure that everything is adequate. If New Orleans opens back up and is adequate to live in, I'm more than sure we'll be going back. If not, we'll have to start our lives somewhere else. But my main goal is to get back home.

Interview by Mike Mosedale




Katy Reckdahl, 40, Gambit Weekly staff writer, former City Pages staff writer, gave birth at New Orleans' Touro Infirmary on the Saturday night before the hurricane hit

All day Saturday, people were getting ready to evacuate. Everyone you saw in the street would say, "Are you leaving?" Among our friends, it was 50-50 between people staying and people going. We were debating because I was so enormously pregnant--38 weeks along, big as a house and four centimeters dilated, which meant I could go on to labor at any moment. Last year, I had evacuated for Hurricane Ivan. We spent 14 hours on the road, and then we got two drops of rain in New Orleans. I knew I couldn't do that this time. For one thing, you really don't own your bladder at that point in pregnancy. And if I had gone into labor, I probably would been forced to give birth in a car.

At about 10 p.m., when [my boyfriend] Merv got home from his gig, my contractions were getting pretty close. So he borrowed a car and drove like a speed demon to Touro--me in the back seat, on all fours and in a lot of pain. When we arrived to the hospital, they discovered Hector was lying sideways, so they had to turn him about 90 degrees before he could come out. I could have never given birth to him in a car. It turned out we probably did the right thing by staying.

I started to push at midnight. Hector wasn't born until 4:14 in the morning. He was a cute, mellow little dude and we called some people to say that we were staying and then I fell asleep. About eight hours after I gave birth, the hospital was put on lock down, which meant no one could leave and no one could enter. So after that, I really didn't think again about evacuating.

About 6 a.m. on Monday morning, we were awakened by the head nurse. The hurricane came through--it sounded like a train--and she was telling everyone to move in the hallways. Originally, they had thought we would be okay in our rooms because the glass was rated for 200 mph winds. But after a few windows broke in the upper stories, someone decided all the patients would sit out the hurricane in the hallways.

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