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 just told people that the National Guard was handling the evacuation effort, and they're not talking to us. So we've got all these people at the Convention Center, and now the captain is saying, okay, you all got to get out of the hotel. They're going to riot and they're going to burn the fucking hotel down. They're going to start this big massive thing, they're going to start killing people on Convention Center Boulevard, it's going to be a big massacre.

At this point it's like four days into it, and we're trying to explain to the captain, these people are so tired and thirsty and hungry they couldn't flip over a lawn chair if they wanted to riot. I won't say anything bad about my captain. My captain was making good decisions based on bad information. And my captain had to realize that he had to run a district of a hundred [officers], not all of whom had the testicular fortitude to stick this all out. So to keep morale up, he moves them out of the line of fire so they can sleep in a car somewhere. Whatever. That's what he had to do. When he got the proper information, he said we didn't have to leave the hotel. He said, just do the right thing. I trust you all. Do what you need to do.

So we hunkered down again. Our hotel was at the corner of Gaiennie and Convention Center. If you walk into a door 40 feet over, there's 20,000 people. And they were not staying inside the Convention Center because of the murders and robberies going on inside there. They were all on the neutral ground staring at us. We don't have many supplies, so we're not passing shit out. We barely have enough for us to get by the next two days. Occasionally another police car would drive by and stop and ask if we were all right, then drive on. No patrol presence whatsoever.

The majority of the people were staying outside. We were hearing all kinds of horror stories from inside, murder to rape to robberies to shootings to beatings. There was no way to verify any of that stuff. Ninety-seven percent of these people were behind us. They wanted us to be the police and they loved that we were still there. We were the only police they saw for four or five days. The majority of the conversations were, "Baby, I know you're being left here just like we're being left here and you don't know anything, but if you find out something, could you tell us?" My response was, you've got the radio--you tell us what's going on. And these people would come over and give us bulletins as they heard it from the news.

I talked to lots and lots of those people there. Ninety-nine percent of the conversations were people coming up to us asking, where's the food? Where's the water? When are the buses coming? Where are they taking us? People were coming up with dying children, with elderly people who were dying and needed medical attention. We need diabetes medication, we need heart medication. Where can I get medical assistance? We don't know, we don't know, we don't know.

Then came the military helicopters. They'd fly over the crowd, then fly seven or eight blocks away and drop food and water from about 40 or 50 feet--high enough to bust the boxes and send bottles of water all over the concrete. There was a group of people, Good Samaritans, who pilfered the Convention Center for handcarts and walked out to where the food and water was and brought it back to the people. And the people got together as a group and disseminated it amongst themselves, without any riots, any fights, anything. And then these people put together a box of food and water and brought it to us. We didn't take it. We told them, don't worry about us, give it to the kids and the old people. But these people were looking out for us at this point!

There were guys running through the crowd shooting at us and shooting at the crowd. And they would disappear back in the Convention Center. There wasn't much we could do. How about shooting into a crowd of 20,000 people to kill one person? At one point, there's a guy in a stolen Jeep Liberty who's shooting at us with an M16. It jammed on him--he didn't know what he was doing--and we were able to persuade him out of the vehicle the way I normally persuade people out of vehicles, and we were able to subdue him. We weren't technically the most polite in subduing him. We did this in front of 20,000 detainees. I call them detainees because the city sent them to a place where they could be detained, and that's all that happened, they were inconvenienced and detained. Anyway, we do this in front of the crowd and you hear this fucking roar from the crowd, this fucking standing ovation. We handed him over to the feds--who, by the way, are very good at making ID cards, and have really pretty uniforms.

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