The Katrina Papers
These were published on the Angel Paths forums in September 2005, following Hurricane Katrina's destruction of large parts of New Orleans.
[Please note - photos used are placed by Liam from a large collection, please let him know if you know who took them and the credits to be used.]
Author - D-man. Who was there. Visit D-man's Blog.
I am sorry that I got sidetracked and only got the first 3 posts done. It seems some of you came to my other blog though and got the complete story. Here is part 4, and I am also going to post 5 & 6. There are only 6 parts.. Thank you all for your love and energies. Much appreciated.
Morning comes quickly. Too quickly. I very seriously doubt that I got enough sleep on the hard floor of the cold library. As with all hard floors that I’ve slept on, my bones crack with every attempt to get up and start my day. Upon cursory inspection, I see several other people laying around on the floor close by. Why can’t I still be asleep like them? Why did I have to wake up and be reminded that my house is just down the road and full of water?
Waking up also renews my body’s aggravation with the situation and the vomiting resumes. I must try to keep something down. There are some hard-boiled eggs in the Seminary Kitchen. Protein. No one else here seems to like the eggs, so I take two of them without feeling any guilt or remorse. Only worry that the supply of them is limited and I don’t know how long we will be here in our new prison.
As the others start to rise from their troubled slumber, the groups start forming again on the stairs out front to soak up the breeze that is gracing us with its presence.
A very large helicopter flies overhead. Almost close enough to touch. This is just one of HUNDREDS of helicopters that have been flying over since last night. But this one is different. It’s landing! On the rooftop next door at the school, it slowly descends and starts to evacuate the inhabitants that called the school home for the past day or so. I lose count as the day goes by, but the helicopter landed over 50 times for pick-ups. There is a boat tied up to the back of the school. We know that whoever secreted that boat away, is in the school and will no longer need it. Contemplating wading through the sea to “borrow” the boat is a hard thought to swallow. No one wants to expose themselves again to anyone waiting around any corner, or to the disgusting vileness of the water.
Behind the Seminary, someone spots a Ryder truck. Sitting high on it’s wheels it appears to be unaffected by the water. A team is sent out to investigate and learn that the truck is filling up with whoever can fit into it for now and heading for higher ground. Another blessing that shows up out of nowhere. More questions reveal that the truck is only taking Women and Children. I have no problem with this. We still have several here and they need to go. The children have little restraint when it comes to drinking our water supplies and the women have too much heart to tell them to stop.
The day goes by rather uneventfully. Roaming through the halls of Notre Dame, locking down whatever doors can be locked. In the event that the Army truck does come back today, everyone gets their bags by the front door and Notre Dame’s nether regions are secured against the bandits that will come after we leave. They’ve been watching from the other side of the sea all day. Their presence in the hallowed halls is imminent.
Batteries are consolidated from a flashlight and put into a radio. It’s a syndicated talk show being broadcast across the coastal regions. Providing news and caller feedback to the situation currently at hand. One particular call piqued my interest more than the others. It was Jefferson Parish President Aaron Brussard. He informs listeners that he was trying to set up a Parish government office in Baton Rouge and he was TURNED AWAY from the city because there was rioting in Baton Rouge and their own government was trying to leave the city and flee to safety. This was previously unpublicized on any news broadcast we had heard.
The sickening part of his phone call revolves around the American Red Cross. According to Mr. Brussard, the Jefferson Parish offices of the ARC refused to open up any kind of shelter or offer any services in the Parish. Granted, the majority of the Parish was not underwater as is Orleans Parish, but there are still thousands of people there without running water or electricity and they need help. Mr. Broussard informed the Red Cross that they can remove their offices from his Parish immediately. If they were going to refuse to help, he was not going to have them stay and use up his Parish funding that is already scarce enough. The awe washing across our faces as we listened to this report was overwhelming. The AMERICAN RED CROSS… refusing to help AMERICANS in a time of crisis. How ABSURD!!!
Of course, we had the one guy that had his stash of beer that he was hording and he was becoming increasingly intoxicated. We understood. That’s how he needs to cope. Suddenly there are 3 flat boats coming directly at our stations on the stairs. Who is that?! What do they want? How are we going to turn away 6 full grown men? As they come closer, we see the assault rifles and Wildlife Agency badges on their jackets.
“Three to a boat” the man directs. “C’mon! Move it! You’re our last pickup for the day! It’s getting dark!” I grab my backpack from my tote of possessions that I floated down the river yesterday. So much left behind in that tote. Flashlights, clothes, shoes. Items that don’t fit into a backpack. I was in no hurry to stay behind. There are 12 of us left now. We need one more boat. “There is a 4th boat on the way. They got snagged on branches a few intersections back and we couldn’t wait.” That is perfect! Just enough boats to get all of us out with one bag each. Whatever we could hold in our laps and not capsize the flat-boats.
Thirty minutes of navigating the waters. We head back in the direction that I came from yesterday. I pass by my house and see the water is higher than when I left it yesterday. I hope my cats are doing alright out there. If not for the sight of my house, I would have no idea where I was. Nothing looks familiar at all. There are no streetcars on the tracks anymore. Most of the streetcar lines aren’t even there anymore anyway. How will they find the heart to rebuild all of this. These lines have been here since 1935.
We finally bottom out in shallow water and are herded to waiting pickup trucks bearing the emblem of the National Wildlife Enforcement Agency. Now we have to wait for all the boats to be loaded on their sleds and all the Agents to get together in their trucks to form the convoy to dry land.
Unfortunately, my body is still trying to empty all of its contents. It’s not vomit this time. I have to clear it with one of the agents to go hide behind a large pile of branches. It still isn’t very much cover. I’ve lost all sense of modesty at this point and drop my pants in the middle of a dry patch of lawn and let loose. Such contamination being forced out of my body burns a little more than I can tolerate. And there is no sanitation available, so I have to leave myself soiled and get back on the truck. I already feel more building up inside of me. Our destination seems to be so far away as I grab my stomach, doubling over in pain. Trying not to mess myself. I don’t know when I’ll be able to shower or change my clothes. This does not bode well.
Two hours after the boats picked us up, our trucks are on their way. Taking the back roads that are dry; along the river levees that remained intact. Another blessing shows itself, as we pass 20 Entergy trucks repairing lines that run to the hospital in this area. It’s heartening to see that those patients will have the power necessary to keep them alive for a little bit longer until they can coordinate their evacuations. On dry land, with power, they will not be a priority to rescuers.
We come to a parking lot teeming with Wildlife trucks and airboats that have been picking up people all day. A port-o-let waits there for us. A strong order to remain in the trucks goes completely ignored by myself and a few others as we make our way to these portable sanctuaries.
“Where are you trying to get to?” I’m asked. “Houston”. “Get in that truck over there.”
I climb into the back of a crowded pickup with 9 other people. Several of them injured and unable to cross their legs creating more room. A text message from someone lights up my phone and eyes around me grow wide. A working phone!. I have no choice but to let it be used. I know these people have no other opportunity to contact anyone. Here is their brief chance before the battery dies completely.
We wind our way through the city, surveying the land as we go. I don’t know where we are. There is just water everywhere. Buildings left in piles of rubble. Signs submerged. Until finally we drive up an entrance ramp to an unknown road, and we all breathe a little sigh of relief. Causeway. The only way to I-10 from here. Our driver doesn’t know how to navigate the intricately looping entrance ramp and we have to direct from the back of the truck.
The truck passes over I-10 and our eyes try to pop out of our heads as we see Thousands standing on the side of the road. “This is where the buses will come pick you up and take you to Houston. Don’t worry, it was this crowded yesterday too, and the buses showed up later. But rest assured that they WILL come for you tonight.” The first of many lies to be presented to us over the next couple of days.
I make my way to the FIVE portable toilets set up for these Thousands of forlorn faces stretching down the interstate. I pass by families, old men petting their dead dogs, children crying out. Unorganized chaos kept only faintly organized by metal barricades that are largely useless in these mobs. I take up station outside of the toilets. In a matter of 30 minutes, I’ve found myself inside at least five times. I’m running out of debris and clothes that I decide to sacrifice in order to have a cleaner rear-end.
I don’t remember who made first contact. Did he call me? Did I call him? It doesn’t matter. I got a hold of Ryan! A voice that I’ve never heard before fills my heart with so much joy. Contact with the “outside”. He starts to hear my story, and I plead with him to start finding transportation information. Flights, buses, ANYTHING! Text messaging my step-sister to get my dad on the phone so I can have credit card information to purchase whatever is available. $919.00 for a one-way flight from Baton Rouge to Houston. I don’t even know if I’m going to Baton Rouge. I will get off the bus there while it’s rolling if I have to.
Several hours go by. Hundreds upon hundreds of more people show up to this make-shift holding area. No one has any information. The officials walking around know even less than us. They have guns though, and that’s what helps keep control over the milling masses.
“There are four buses here now, and when the other 150 arrive, we’ll start loading.” Lie number two thrown in our faces. Night envelopes the crowds and three tractor-trailers start to come down the road. People are walking with boxes held high over their heads. What do they have? Will someone walk closer so I can see? COTS!!! Oh my God! They expect us to be here all night! Hastily I call Ryan back and have him cancel any transportation plans that he was attempting to get for me, and I break out into sobs while talking to him. I can not control myself anymore and the crying continues. The cots run out quickly. 2,000 cots for 5,000 people leaves a lot of people sleeping on the empty boxes that remain. I found one of those boxes in a puddle and eagerly grabbed it up and resumed my post by the toilets. Another truck passes by, this one with warm water, the next truck with MRE’s (Meals Ready-to-Eat). The taste is vile, and with no promise of rescue tonight, I stash mine into my backpack. It will be excellent barter tomorrow when someone is hungry and I want to get off of the hard ground. I hope to be able to buy a cot. There are families of five and six people sitting on one cot while others in the crowd stretch out comfortably on a personal cot.
The toilets start to overflow and run down the small slope into the crowds. Sadly, this is where I had to set myself down. I had to remain close to those toilets. I began tearing up one of my shirts. Stripping off sections and then tearing those into squares. Make-shift toilet paper, and it’s also something to wipe the refuse of others off of the toilet seats. I make sure to let any women waiting in line have use after me while the seat is still clean. This doesn’t go over well with several people waiting in line. They will just have to deal with it. I can hold my own a little bit. I’m not a small man, and they see this.
I’ve long since lost my luxurious cardboard box that I was sitting on. Too many trips to the toilet left a predictable pattern and someone more desperate than myself decided to help themselves to it. The ground is harder than I hoped it would be, but I have to sit down; I’m too tired and in too much pain. I try to lay down for a little bit and stretch out my legs that have already cramped up into a pretzel. A nice soft patch of mud and feces becomes my new pillow for the time being. Luckily I have a small flashlight. The floodlights are shining in my direction and people walking from the toilets can’t see me in my spot unless I shine a light. I’m slow to realize why I’ve been kicked over a dozen times.
3a.m. rolls around and four luxury buses pull up into the middle of the crowd where the flood lights are. I happen to be no where near those lights. It quickly hits me that they are not going to pick up in the dark sections of the interstate. There is no chance of survival for a bus like that in the dark. In times like these, there aren’t guns big enough to protect those drivers and the buses will be bum-rushed even if it means destroying any chance of getting back to civilization.
As the smarter crowd starts to realize the light is the salvation, cots start to become available. I can’t stand up at this point. The pain is too severe in my abdomen and waiting in line means soiling myself before an excursion that will take hours to accomplish. My new found cot and I work our way to the back of the crowd to avoid being trampled. Sloshing through the human waste that has collected in puddles I find a spot that is dry enough to withstand the pressure of the cot and not have the legs go sliding out from under me.
Slipping my leg through the straps of my backpack, I try to catch a moments sleep, asking to die right then and there if it meant someone else more desperate and healthy than I got to get out alright and live a happy life. Sleep has covered itself in the oily mess of the water down the street and is impossible to grasp anymore. As the sun comes up, only EIGHT buses ever stopped to pick up. Four luxury buses and four school buses that took the “special needs” victims. At least as many as they could hold, which was not very many.
And so Friday begins, on the side of the road, my head crusty with overflowing shit and my feet pitch black from materials that I’d rather not think about. What will today dangle in front of us? How many more lies? How much more waiting? How many more fights will break out? I vomit again.
Part: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6
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