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.

Eventually we're going on seven days without word on what else is going on. Meanwhile, from midnight to noon, we're pooling out of the hotel and we're doing neighborhood patrols with guns, driving around with our machine weaponry. At this point I don't even have a uniform. I've got my gun, but somebody's walked off with my gear bag and they've got my duty rig and my NOPD uniform. So I'm wearing my shoulder holster, my raid dress with a camo bag on it, water in it, and anything from shorts to blue jeans with an NOPD t-shirt, my badge around my neck, and a bandana tied around my head. More times than not, I had to wade in water, and that's where the pneumonia came from. At one point I had seven days of 100-degree fever and full pneumonia that I had been patrolling with. I went to the hospital ship, and the Navy doctors were amazing. They took really good care of me. I went back to work, but I was still showering with the water that was making me sick and I was still dealing with all this pollution.

We're patrolling from midnight to noon, and noon to midnight we're standing guard at the hotel because we don't have any relief help. We get a couple of wannabe SWAT teams from outside agencies coming in and saying they need a place to stay. We said we'd put them up at the hotel, but they had to give us a hand securing the hotel and patrolling this area. They looked at the area, and we never heard back from them. Then came the guys from Detroit. Five agencies from around the Detroit area came down. They looked at the area and they went, all right, looks like home. We're in. They moved in to the hotel and helped us secure it. They helped us patrol at night. They fucking were the real police. They had our backs. Then the Burnett County guys came down, from Austin [Texas]. I know other agencies showed up to help, but I didn't see them. They weren't in my area.

I took pictures. I knew that there'd be enough photos of flood water and enough photos of refugees, so that's not what I focused on. I focused on police officers and how we were living. How anarchist our set-up was. Sleeping on sofas in a hotel lobby, machine guns laying around. It was just outrageous, you know? It kept on going like that, and blurring and blurring, and sometime around day 12 the hotel people got to town with a crew to rip up the carpet and clean out the hotel, set the place up for us.

Food and water started trickling in five or six days in. We started seeing buses lining up on the outskirts of town. They were getting the Superdome cleared first. The Convention Center had no security presence from the get-go except for us, so they couldn't just bring in three buses and leave and then come back in with three more buses. They needed to have enough buses to move everybody out in one sweep. And they did it. The military sure knows how to line things up. They can line it up in twos, threes, backwards, forward, alphabetically. You name it, they can line shit up. They lined up those goddamn buses and filled them up, and the next thing you knew there was no one. In less than 30 hours.

The city had no idea--the mayor couldn't do a mandatory evacuation from the get-go, because to do a mandatory evacuation you have to provide transportation for people who don't have it. For whatever reason, the city wasn't going to use RTA buses to get people out of town. So most of the RTA buses wound up stolen and wrecked around the city.

How many died there? I couldn't begin to put a number on it. I know there were a number of people who died in front of the Convention Center on the neutral ground. But as to inside, and as to how many died on Convention Center Boulevard, I don't have a tally. I don't know that there will be a tally. I think there might just be one big number for the entire incident. I don't know how accurate that number is going to be, either. They're going to be finding bodies for weeks. All I know is that when you drive into certain neighborhoods, you'll hit a corner and you can smell something. And it smells worse than an animal that's dead. You can only assume that it's a body, but I'm not trained to deal with it, so I'm not looking for it.

Day to day, anything I could get my hands on that might be useful, I'd go get it. By any means necessary. The number of vehicles I've procured, commandeered, is just phenomenal. The gas issue was another whole story. We figured we'd go get some of the old fleet trucks that have air conditioning, and we'll keep the trucks running so we can store cold goods in them. So we got five of those. Through all this, you can imagine all the flat tires we were getting from nails and debris and everything. If you've got six inches of water on the road, you can't see what's under the water. The department made no provision for spare tires. Thankfully, through some connections I've got, we got access to spare tires and we're getting that done. Through this, I've been to southern Plaquemines parish, to the water line, wherever I've got to go to get what we need. We don't care.

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