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.

So we all go to the hotel and hunker down to ride out the storm. Once the winds get over 35-40 miles an hour in the city, they pull us off the streets. Park the car somewhere secure, get the fuck off the streets. Because at anything over 20 miles an hour, tree branches become bullets that can shatter windows and decapitate people. Not to mention flying street signs and bending poles. When you see people impaled on two-by-fours that were airborne in the storm, it gives you an appreciation of the power of wind.

So now we're at the Hampton riding the storm out. It's battering the building. The winds are hitting the building so hard that water is forcing itself in through the window seals and the brick. It's chiseling the mortar out between the wood and the brick on windows. On the north side of the building, it is now raining in all of those rooms, horizontally, a good seven inches from the window. Most of the beds are soaked, the sofas are soaked, the carpet's soaked, the power's flickering. Then we lose power. I'm on the fifth floor, at the top of this building, and in the corner that's getting hardest hit. The building is rocking.

When the hurricane's gone, or so we think--after the eye passed--we sneak out to do a couple of patrols, and check on some houses and areas. Then we go back to the hotel for the next wave. Once the storm passes, the power is out and we relocate to the Sixth District station and try to figure out what we're doing next. A number of our police cars are destroyed. There's some flooding in the city, but we're looking around thinking, this isn't going to be as bad as we thought.

Oh, and by the way, the 17th Street canal just broke. We found out from people on the street who were listening to the news. At this point we weren't listening to our radios very much because they weren't working. Our radios would only broadcast a mile or two miles. The communication tower went down--the one communication tower that the city has. So now we go back to the hotel, and we're waiting around. This is where the franticness begins. We're getting information from people who don't know any better, people who don't have any background with sewage or water, no basis for claiming any kind of knowledge about this, coming in screaming, we've got to get out of our hotel! We've got to get out of the city! There's a 10-foot wall of water coming at us! We've got to go! We've got to go!

Instead of getting a representative from the Army Corps of Engineers on the radio and saying what the facts are, they tell somebody who tells somebody else who's doing a press conference, who whispers it to the mayor, and now it's changed 10 times and gone from "we've got a flow over the levee where it's breached" to "there's a tidal wave coming and the tsunami has hit." So these people are freaking out, and we're in a five-story building with access to an eight-story building next door. And they're screaming at us, "We're all gonna be under water. We've got to go!" And we're at the highest point in the city. We're less than a hundred feet from the river. I'm trying to tell these people, from my knowledge of how the city's laid out, and nobody wants to hear it. So whatever. My lieutenant believes me. My lieutenant asks the captain, "Are you commanding us out of the hotel?" The captain refuses to command us.

Four of us stayed at the hotel, two of us stayed at the station, and everybody else ran like I don't know what. They went to the parking lot of Breaux-Mart. They were like Battlestar Galactica. They were fleeing the Cylons, and they didn't even know what the Cylons were. And we were like, we've got a hotel, we've got high ground, why the fuck should we go? We're 50 feet from the bridge. The water's not going to rise so quick that we can't get out of here if we have to. We can just sit on the fucking bridge for the remainder if we need to. But it's not going to come to that. I'm watching the water rise through the city, and it's rising at a rate of six inches to a foot every hour and a half.

Lots of people on the street were asking me where to go. I'm telling them the truth, which is I don't know, they haven't told us anything. They're telling us that somebody told them that they were told by another person who was somebody in charge of something that the Convention Center was being set up as a secondary evacuation point with food and water. Those people went to the Convention Center, and there was no food or water there for them. So now there's no water, there's no police--everybody's left the city except for the six of us. And now there's 20,000 people with no extra security down there.

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