Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another Survivor Story


This is from a Yale listserv (not blockquoted due to length - none of the words are mine):

Subject: a survivor's story: Katrina in New Orleans

I heard from my aunt last night that my cousin Denise made it out of
New Orleans; she's at her brother's in Baton Rouge. From what she told
me:

Her mother, a licensed practical nurse, was called in to work on
Sunday night at Memorial Hospital (historically known as Baptist
Hospital to those of us from N.O.). Denise decided to stay with her
mother, her niece and grandniece (who is 2 years old); she figured
they'd be safe at the hospital. They went to Baptist, and had to wait
hours to be assigned a room to sleep in; after they were finally
assigned a room, two white nurses suddenly arrived after the cut-off
time (time to be assigned a room), and Denise and her family were
booted out; their room was given up to the new nurses. Denise was
furious, and rather than stay at Baptist, decided to walk home
(several blocks away) to ride out the storm at her mother's apartment.
Her mother stayed at the hospital.

She described it as the scariest time in her life. Three of the rooms
in the apartment (there are only four) caved in. Ceilings caved in,
walls caved in. She huddled under a mattress in the hall. She thought
she would die from either the storm or a heart attack. After the storm
passed, she went back to Baptist to seek shelter (this was Monday). It
was also scary at Baptist; the electricity was out, they were running
on generators, there was no air conditioning. Tuesday the levees
broke, and water began rising. They moved patients upstairs, saw boats
pass by on what used to be streets. They were told that they would be
evacuated, that buses were coming. Then they were told they would have
to walk to the nearest intersection, Napoleon and S. Claiborne, to
await the buses.

They waded out in hip-deep water, only to stand at the intersection,
on the neutral ground (what y'all call the median) for 3 1/2 hours.
The buses came and took them to the Ernest Morial Convention Center.
(Yes, the convention center you've all seen on TV.)

Denise said she thought she was in hell. They were there for two
days, with no water, no food. No shelter. Denise, her mother (63 years
old), her niece (21 years old), and 2-year-old grandniece. When they
arrived, there were already thousands of people there. They were told
that buses were coming. Police drove by, windows rolled up, thumbs up
signs. National guard trucks rolled by, completely empty, soldiers
with guns cocked and aimed at them. Nobody stopped to drop off water.
A helicopter dropped a load of water, but all the bottles exploded on impact due to the height of the helicopter.

The first day (Wednesday) four people died next to her. The second
day (Thursday) six people died next to her.

Denise told me the people around her all thought they had been sent
there to die. Aagain, nobody stopped. The only buses that came were
full; they dropped off more and more people, but nobody was being
picked up and taken away. They found out that those being dropped off had
beenrescued from rooftops and attics; they got off the buses delirious
from lack of water and food. Completely dehydrated. The crowd tried to
keep them all in one area; Denise said the new arrivals had mostly
lost their minds. They had gone crazy.

Inside the convention center, the place was one huge bathroom. In
order to shit, you had to stand in other people's shit. The floors
were black and slick with shit. Most people stayed outside because the
smell was so bad. But outside wasn't much better: between the heat,
the humidity, the lack of water, the old and very young dying from
dehydration... and there was no place to lie down, not even room on
the sidewalk. They slept outside Wednesday night, under an overpass.

Denise said yes, there were young men with guns there. But they
organized the crowd. They went to Canal Street and "looted," and
brought back food and water for the old people and the babies, because
nobody had eaten in days. Then the police rolled down windows and
yelled out "the buses are coming," the young men with guns organized
the crowd in order: old people in front, women and children next, men
in the back. Just so that when the buses came, there would be
priorities of who got out first.

Denise said the fights she saw between the young men with guns were
fist fights. She saw them put their guns down and fight rather than
shoot up the crowd. But she said that there were a handful of people
shot in the convention center; their bodies were left inside, along
with other dead babies and old people.

Denise said the people thought they were being sent there to die.
Lots of people being dropped off, nobody being picked up. Cops passing
by, speeding off. National guard rolling by with guns aimed at them.
And yes, a few men shot at the police, because at a certain point all
the people thought the cops were coming to hurt them, to kill them
all. She saw a young man who had stolen a car speed past, cops in
pursuit; he crashed the car, got out and ran, and the cops shot him in
the back. In front of the whole crowd. She saw many groups of people
decide that they were going to walk across the bridge to the west
bank, and those same groups would return, saying that they were met at the top of the bridge by armed police ordering them to turn around, that they weren't allowed to
leave.

So they all believed they were sent there to die.

Denise's niece found a pay phone, and kept trying to call her
mother's boyfriend in Baton Rouge, and finally got through and told
him where they were. The boyfriend, and Denise's brother, drove down
from Baton Rouge and came and got them. They had to bribe a few cops,
and talk a few into letting them into the city ("Come on, man, my
two-year-old niece is at the Convention Center!"), then they took back
roads to get to them.

After arriving at my other cousin's apartment in Baton Rouge, they
saw the images on TV, and couldn't believe how the media was
portraying the people of New Orleans. She kept repeating to me on the
phone last night: Make sure you tell everybody that they left us there
to die. Nobody came. Those young men with guns were protecting us. If
it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have had the little water and food
they had found.

That's Denise Moore's story.

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