Inside the Superdome
After everyone at the radio station evacuated to Houston, we met a couple from New Zealand, on vacation in New Orleans. The following is their story, un-edited as George relayed to us after we met and was nice enough to email me his notes from his and his wife's experience in New Orleans during Katrina.
Fri 26th august.
Preliminary evacuation notices given to low lying areas of S.E. Lousiana. Notices given over local radio, and weather channels, also on news channels. Obviously, all us party animals don't bother with the media, and the locals tell us not to worry as they always give out these warnings and "nuttin ever happens",so on with the party.
We get back to our hotel and I phone Air Canada to confirm our flights for Monday 29th. "No problems Sir, I have you confirmed for your flight to Totonto, and onwards to Frederickton New Brunswick, May i have your phone number in case we have to notify you of any changes".Number supplied.
Sat 27th.approx 10.30 am
sat at the streetcar stop waiting for the Riverfront streetcar, and a guy asks us when we are getting out, i tell him Monday, he looks at me and says "No, I don't think so, I got one of the last 5 seats out of New Orleans airport last night". Well we were a bit dumbfounded, but remembering the words of the locals we didnt feel so bad.We went to the french Market, walked along some of the old streets of the French Quarter, some beautiful old buildings, and they had been well restored. That night we went to the Margueritaville cafe and had a fabulous meal and a few of the drinks for which they are famous.Back at the hotel we check the weather channel, Katrina is just a grade 3 storm, maybe winds of 50-60 mph. so we feel we can ride this out, after all the hotel is of concrete and steel.Nevertheless I contacted Air canada again to confirm our flight, but was told that all flights from Sunday onwards had been cancelled. until further notice as the airport had officially closed. We found out later that many Tourists had been flown in by various airlines up to and including 4.00 pm today. They were not even warned about the possibility of a Hurricane, or of the fact that the airport would be closed.We had been meeting a jazztrumpeter by the soubriquet of "steamboat willie", we had met this guy at the Napier Jazz Club a couple of years ago. We got along famously, and he told us to get out of town, as this was the real thing. He gave us his cellphone number, and said if things got too difficult for us to give him a call.
Weather channel upgrades Katrina to grade 5 "impending disaster".Tried to give steamboat a call, no luck, thought to try again in the morning.
7.00 am tried steamboat again, no luck, tried his landline, most systems were busy. tried disaster awareness numbers all busy. asked at the hotel for the best thing to do, was told to try to get out of town, as the hotel was closing down until further notice, and a sign told people of this and the fact that there would be no rebates of payments.No rental cars, no buses, no trains, no planes, couldn't even get a U-Haul, even if we had been able to get a vehicle, there was no petrol available.We are on the street outside the hotel and flag down a cop, he tells us that the Superdome, the indoor football arena has been turned into an emergency shelter. The guy from the hotel takes us down there in his car, we get there at 9.30 am and are told we can't get in until 12 noon, the doors are guarded by the Louisiana National Guard, most of whom look about 18 years old with maybe 9 or 10 older guys. they are all armed.come 12.00 noon there are about 7000 people, mostly the poorer families of the city, trying to get into the superdome. There are probably 200 white faces in the crowd. Of the number of people there, the number of tourists would number 30-40, I can only suppose that the tourists in the top class hotels, the big chains, had been bussed out to other hotels within the hotel chain in othe areas, like Houston or Dalls, certailnly nowhere within louisiana, mississippi, alabama, or florida.We get in line and after 3 hours of shuffling along, we get near to the entrance, where we are told that we will all be searched, and all our luggage will be searched, any contraband would be confiscated. Contraband consisted of drugs, knives, combustibles, alcohol etc. Anybody found with any of these on there person or in their luggage, would not be allowed in, there were bins for the dumping of suspect goods. We lose our camp stove, our two hunting knives, our swiss army knives, our camping cutlery,and our alcohol, if I had known about the alcohol we would have been drinking it while we were waiting. Eventually we get sent to a seated section of the arena, section 148. we seem to be with mostly nice ordinary people even if they are mostly negro.
Katrina caresses New Orleans,heavy rain, and increasing winds.We are told that food would be available later. when everybody is inside the stadium.midnightQueuing for food is the pits, I go first, as Margaret stays to guard our gear, the food is MRE's along with a bottle of water, I am told that they can only give out one ration to one person, yet I see other people with 2,3, and even 4 meal packs and water.On the way back I see groups of young negroes, hanging about, and I start to see the potential for trouble. Margaret goes and gets her food ration and we settle down for the night. Sleeping upright with all our possessions between us is awkward, and uncomfortable.2 am MondayKatrina strikes, winds of 145-160 mph, heavy rain. The building is shaking and we hear the exterior cladding being ripped off, soon the plywood sheathing is being blown off, and the central rood louvres are flying off into the Louisianas night.
2.20 mains power goes off, down to emergency lights.because of the danger of falling debris, everyone is moved into the internal corridors, very little light, no air cirulation. temperature in the low hundreds (f). We find ourselves next to 2 negro families, they are really nice. We had no chance to buy any food or drinks before entering the stadium as all the shops were closed, so they give us some fried chicken and some water. we are all getting on fine. The ceilings start to leak water, not just drips, but pouring out of the tiles and joints in the concrete, where our neighbours are becomes untenable, so they have to move, we seem to be OK for the time being, A new group arrives, these are young tourists from one of the backpacker lodges. They are a truly international group, we all get together but the water from the roof forces us to leave, they stay put and try to make the best of it, most have had some "fortification".we move to another spot and find ourselves back with our olf neighbours, so with some light hearted banter, we settle down for the night. Our peace is disturbed by the arrival of other negro groups, but these are youngsters, with heavy chain necklaces, with large "pendants" hanging off them. They are giving it the old "I'm a big bad mother, and don't nobody mess with me" routine.Since we have been in the dome there has been a ban on smoking, although if you were to go into the toilet blocks you would never know. I can understand the ban, let's face it a fire in that building would be just about all we would need to cap off the disaster. Although later in the week, a fire will be just about needed to sterilise the place. But I jump ahead. We get a visit from some of the group of young tourists, asking for our names and addresses as they are going to try to get in touch with embassies and consulates via their cellphones
Approached by one the young tourists (Cora) along with 2 National guardsmen. They asked us if we would care to join the growing group of internationals and be placed in one area, this would facilitate the guards keeping an eye on us and in keeping in contact. We agree, saying goodbye to our good neighbours, we gather up our belongings and we move, back into the arena!. By this time it has stopped raining and no more parts of the building have fallen down. we settle down and try to sleep. Just about impossible, so we swap stories and histories with our new freinds. It turns out that it was the young girls that requested the move. Whilst in the corridors, they had to go all the way down to the first level to get the bathrooms, and on the way they were being accosted, and grabbed, and having top put up with sexual remarks.A quick word about the toilet blocks, after the power went off there was no longer any running water, so you can imagine what the toilets were like, the shit was overflowing the bowls and being dragged across the floor, the urinals were overflowing, and you know what old piss smells like, and all the time more people are being brought in. The numbers now reached 25 thousand.
Queuing for food, when we were first here they had 3 food stations for 10 thousand people, now they have one food station for 25thousand. It takes 3 hours to stand in line for a packet of rations and a bottle of water. We are rationed to 3 small bottles of water a day and 2 packets of food. Margaret and I have discovered a supply of plastic bags that are used to put wet umbrellas in when people attend a game at the stadium. we use them in a totally different way. we piss and shist in them and tie them up and throw them i the garbage, rather than trying to piss or shit in the toilets. We still have to go into the toilet stalls to do this but it is better than using the toilet bowls.lunchtimeWe get our ration of water, rumours abound, "they have run out of food, they are letting us out tonight, there have been people killed, there have been rapes committed, etc"One of our group is a big Australian, he looks like a real drunken beach bum type, how looks can be wrong. this guy, all we know of him is his name "Bud", has been talking to the guards, first a specialist, now a sergeant, now a captain, now a major. He gives us the real news. There has been one suicide. that is the extent of the death toll. However one young boy of 7 was raped and beaten in one of the toilet blocks.7pmBud is quietly going round our section talking to small groups of us. The gist is, put your valuables into the centre of the group, get the girls around them, station all the guys around the girls and put all our bigger items of luggage around us. It is a siege situation, he tells us that the military may find it necessary to turn off all the lights this evening. And having done so they would withdraw until daybreak, we would be on our own. We are all appalled, finding anything we could to use as a weapon. we settle down for the night. Imagine the panic that would ensue if 25000 people were suddenly plunged into darkness? Fortunately it did not happen. We thought it may have been a shortage of fuel, but apparently the flood waters had come within 6 inches of the generator connectors, any closer and they would have had no recourse but to turn off the power.Wednesday 6amMargaret and I decide to get some food, we don't really need it but we feel we should get some and share it with the rest of our group, now numbering 80 approx.
Bud calls us together, we are to be moved. gathering our gear, and in groups of five or six we move off. The situation in the arena has changed, no longer is everybody freindly, everyone is suspicious, and on edge, who can blame them, they are black, we are white, and the whities are being moved out, the comments ring out "why you save tehm whities, why don't you save us, we as good as them" etc.We are moved over to the basketball arean which is being used as a triage station for the injured.We are told by the commanding general that buses are on the way to take us up to Baton Rouge, the state capital, where there is decent food and running water, he neglects to tell us that armed troops are patrolling the streets to keep the refugees in order.No matter, it doesn't happen. We start to help in the triage station, those with nursing or related knowledge help with the patients, others help move the patients and load them into lambulances for transfer to the emergency hospital set up at the airport(!) . Margaret and I grab rubbish bags, and staqrt to clean up the floor, I grab a mop and bucket and start to mop the floor, waste of time, the water is filthy. Brainwave, all around us are partly used bottles of water, I empty the bucket, and Mrgaret organises our group to keep any water bottles they find for washing purposes, with plenty of disinfectant, this does the job. The normal hospital orderly who is in charge of cleaning, a real nice negro by the name of Taylor, grabs a floor squeegee and pushes out all the rubbish from around the toilet stalls and urinals and the floors of the toilet blocks and I wash the floor, a great improvement, we all work 2 hours on and 4 hours off, until 8 in the morning. Then we are told once again we are moving.A major in the army accompianied by a grunt, are up in our hiding area. they can take 15 of us at a time. Bud steps in and asks us for a moment to think about things. he asks all young single men and girls who wish to travel in a group to step back. they do. He asks for Married couples, people over 50, we qualify twice, people with children to step forward. we do. This is like something from a movie. The Major explains what he wants us to do. one at a time we are to wade through water up to mid thigh for 200 yards, go through a gate, hang a left and into a parking building. Walk like you are a refugee with no hope he tells us. If the mob in "zoo" see you are getting out they will go mad. Margaqret goes off first. just as she disappears from sight I leave. then the rest, one at a time. It must have been really hard for the young girl in the group she was about 12.when we are all at the first rv we move off, once again in single file to the next point.From there the major goes off to get the truck, the grunt Archie shepherds us all along and into the streets of New Orleans, there are black people everywhere, I am developing eyes in the back of my head as I picture the target forming on my back. we wald for about a mile, and have found that we have missed our rv point, we go back. The people are not as anti as I would have though, Archie asks for and is given directions to our rv. We are cursing the incompetence of the military mindset. Suddenly a truck appears, not an army truck, but a double cab pick up truck, We pile in with our luggage as best we can. Margaret and I are straddling the tailgate, as a large black man approaches, he is not threatening but he is desperate, all he wants is out, and he sees this truck as his sgetaway. but we have no room, Don, the major floors the gas and off we go.We were told we would be going to a fire station/school hall for a couple of days, they had water and power.We stop after 20 minutes to rearrange the loading of the truck. Then on. About ten minutes later we reach the army checkpoint stopping people from enter N.O. Don goes over to see them to arrange for his return. The OK is given.We carry on for about a half hour, less destruction about, traffic signals, so we are in an area with power, we get to a street and turn into it, no fire station no school hall. This is a private house. 8 of our group are shared out with don's family and one of his neighbours. Showers, hot food and clean clothes are on offer. the rest of sthe group go with Archie.Archie tells us he is a marine instructor, we ask about don, he is in the army reserve.We drop off at archie's house, his wife Madonna welcomes us. they hve 2 showers. the bliss of, washing off 4 days of accumulated grime and smell, yet we still feel dirty, later a second shower does not make any difference so we realise we are imagining itMadonna and her neighbours have provide food for all our group, Don and Archie have gone back for more of our group. We ask Madonna how long Archie has been in the military, he isn't in the miilitary, he is a marine instructor, yes he instructs people in boating and navigation and safety. his military dress is just his hunting clothes. what about Don? He is in the army reserve, but not attached to any group involved in the Hurricane clean up. they have done the rescue off their own bat. It seems don and Archie went to see if they could help in any way and were asked to help in the moving of the sick and injured.They saw our group helping and felt that if we could help, when the rest of NO didn't then we deserved help, so they planned our escape. They returned later in the day, without the rest of our group. they had taken another 4 pickup trucks driven by their neighbours along with the local school bus and its driver, but our group had been moved, we hoped to somewhere safe.
Archie and Madonna have organised 3 vehicles to ferry us out. some of the group have managed to book flights from Alexandria la via the internet, but reception is patchy, we cannot get a reservation for anywhere. we leave for Lafayette, two of our group have booked a rental car, but when we get there, the car is unavailable. on to Alexandria. Those of us who have bookings, get their flights confirmed, so its a big goodby with much swapping of addresses and "keep in touch". We are told that the Greyhound buses are running from Lafayette to Houston, so its back to Lafayette. No buses, no trains. Archie suggests that they drive us to Houston, we agree and tell him that we will pay for the fuel and accommodation for him and Madonna.On the way, we stop at a place called winnie, Archie knows of a good eating place. We all have a couople of beers, and a great meal, the propriatress, has been listening to our tale of woe and friendship, and tells us that the meal is on the house, to make up for the lack of Southern Hospitality we have suffered.It appears that any act of kindness brings us all to the brink of tears, I guess this is just a reaction.We get to Houston and stop at the airport Sheraton, where we meet up with one of our group, Bob, who had a flight from Alexandria.Big tearful goodbyes to our new found friends, along with promises to keep in touch.
Houston airport, we manage to get a flight to Toronto and a connection to Frederickton New Brunswick. so our holiday is back on track, althouth we have lost a week, so some part of the holiday will have to be postponed.If you have seen any of the news footage from N.O. multiply by a factor of ten the harsh ssituation, and you will have a better idea of what really went on.
The story that George emailed is the same one he told to me and my radio station crew late one night at the Houston Sheraton as we were all drinking up a storm to try and forget the storm. I have no reason to believe that he is not telling the truth, he did not know we worked for a radio station, there was no need to impress us. Also, if you had been with us and gotten within 100 ft of these two you would believe their story as well- After 3 showers they still had the most foul odor attached to them that I have ever smelled, and I've smelled some nasty things in my 37yrs but nothing compared to the stench they brought with them from the Dome.