I’ve not posted anything about hurricane Katrina, mainly because I have to say that hasn’t already been said by better people than me.

Instead, here is some haunting writing by two Paramedics caught up in the middle of it.

“Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, “Get off the fucking freeway”. A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.”

“In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.”

16 thoughts on “Katrina”

  1. That's what happens when you give guns to lots of stupid people (and put an even more stupid person in charge of them all.)When will they learn?

  2. In the seventies I was moved to tears looking down on Harlem from a commuter train. Thirty years on – seeing the news reels of NO – nothing seems to have changed.Pat

  3. It's just mindblowing. Natural disasters will always happen but the lack of preparation and response is unbelievable.What amazes me is the shocked response to the looting and crime, etc. Put people in desparate situations and they'll do what they need to survive. If you can't work out the logic in that, you're not fit to be in government.

  4. This is just outrageous. I guess you don't ask sheriffs and the like to identify themselves in these circumstances – you'll just get shot. Makes you wonder about the cops who supposedly committed suicide… I'd be altogether more sceptical/cynical/disappointed in mankind if it weren't for people like you and your kind, Tom.Snoop

  5. I've just read the blog that you linked to about the people in NO.Thier treatment by the police and other officals was disgusting and somebody needs to be taken to task for it. Lessons must be learned.

  6. The interesting thing here is that people can and do self-rescue in natural and unnatural disasters. You hear examples of this from earthquakes, floods and civil wars all over the world. Nothing surprising that this happened in Louisiana and Mississippi too. What is surprising is the way that US officialdom seems to have undermined people's self-rescue efforts.

  7. Yes, bureaucracy and panic got in the way of common sense and community spirit. Plus all the lies and mismanagement that separated kids from parents for days. That was awful. I read a report about a 6 year old kid looking after 6 other kids (2 of whom were his younger siblings). It seems the parents were told the helicopter would come back for them, but it didn't and they ended up miles apart for days. Reunited now thank goodness but some were too little to say who they were. What long term damage will that do I wonder? Awful.

  8. After reading their report of their experiences, it's hard to put my anger into words. In the months ahead there will be plenty of finger pointing, lies and political posturing as people seek to shift the blame onto others and even delude themselves that they did nothing wrong, and did the best they could. Much will be done that will obfuscate the truth. But first hand accounts such as this, written immediately after the events, are the accurate record of what really occured in New Orleans. I wish there was a way that these stories- from real people- could be heard and heard again as the long process of figuring out “what went wrong?” unfolds.

  9. I'm gulping like a fish out of water. I'm stunned. I'd say I can't believe it, but to begin with, it happened, and to end with, it fits the whole awful pattern. I lived in New Orleans for 13 years. It's the best city in the whole US, it has a real beating heart, and it'll survive this. But, man, there are people–things in the shape of people, I should say–who would scare a zombie. What's happened to this country? Americans weren't like this. I swear they weren't.I'm posting this on my blog, where I have a smattering of bits and pieces about all this that have left me astounded (like the Shrub's photo op preventing life-or-death emergency flights!).

    Another factor coming out as the days go by is that FEMA (the emergency management agency) was not merely braindead. They actively interfered with the arrival of help! It sounds impossible, but there it is. They cut all the phone lines in a neighboring town's (Jefferson) sheriff's office. Sheriff Harry Lee takes no guff, reconnected them, and posted a guy with a gun to shoot at the feds if they should try it again! Unbelievable. The King of Zembla blog has a good round-up of links . Some titles:

    # FEMA won't accept Amtrak's help in evacuations

    # FEMA turns away experienced firefighters

    # FEMA turns back Wal-Mart supply trucks

    # FEMA prevents Coast Guard from delivering diesel fuel

    # FEMA won't let Red Cross deliver food


  10. Reading this has moved me for the first time ever to register and contribute to a blog. It's just so appalling I can't find the words. Are these experiences going to be covered up, are the police going to be portrayed as heroes? I fear so. The shrub (I love it!) certainly won't be looking to blogs like this for evidence for his “enquiry”. I hope these voices will continue to be heard somewhere.

  11. The quoted site doesn't have the article anymore, but there are plenty of other sites that do. I searched on “freeway on Cilo Street” and had a number of hits that appeared to be the same article.Simply unbeleivable mismanagement, ineptitude and just wrong, wrong, wrong.

  12. And the chaos continues in Dallas:… from a friend who asked to have it circulated widely …

    Subject:First-hand reaction to Katrina refugees

    Anne Gervasi is a licensed psychologist. She donated her time and her talent working with Katrina refugees at first, Reunion Arena and then,

    the Civic Center. This is her first hand account and reaction to whatshe had to deal with. If you blog, please put this out there. We want everyone in the country to read this first-hand account of the horror that is Dallas. If you have an extensive mailing list like I do, please forward it, too.

    There are so many words that come to mind. As a scholar I am thinking

    Diaspora, social displacement, systemic disruption, mass trauma,

    pandemic and unbelievable chaos. As a clinician, I am looking at

    something that we have never been trained to handle in this country–a

    level of victimization and its resultant psycho-social ripples that

    mandate a whole new field of clinical practice-mass victimology. Katrina

    kicked the top off of a racist and social termite's nest that has been

    growing beneath the ground since Reconstruction. These were deeply

    religious people who have lost God and for that matter, faith and hope.

    Hope has been replaced by magical thinking that augurs a second and more

    terrible level of social disruption and anger not far down the road.

    Over and over, I kept hearing a framing of self that puzzled me until I

    realized that this is how it must have been for blacks after

    Reconstruction. Over and over, people said, “everyone has been so

    wonderful, thank you, thank you.” When I said, “there is no need to

    thank us, you are our fellow citizens and we want to help you–American

    to American,” there would be a long pause as if the idea of being the

    same never struck them before.

    They are angry and it is growing. The system failed them. For that

    matter, there is no system because all the safeguards and preparations

    that we thought were in place aren't there. I have been begging anyone

    who would listen over the past two years for a program in mass

    victimology to prepare for the next tragedy after 9/11. Now it is here

    and the lack of organization, science, and preparation are going to

    result in terrible consequences for us as a nation.

    Imagine sending people who have been assimilated into the most stable

    demographic population in America into cities an d towns all over the US

    who are as unprepared as the victims to understand their sense of

    dislocation and their support needs. The lower Gulf States have a

    language, a history, a social dynamic, a faith, a societal structure,

    and a ritual system unlike any other in America. These people have lived

    in and been acculturated to this system for generations. When the dust

    settles and the mud dries, we are going to see all over America, a

    nation that will lose patience with the needs of a foreign refugee

    population. Abandoned once again, the fury and the trauma that have been

    momentarily quieted by the outpouring of empathy and support

    post-crisis, will arise larger and more terrible than we have been

    equipped as a nation to handle. I hear it now, over and over, in the

    survivor stories, in the loss of self, and the need to reclaim dignity

    and power.

    Right now, numbness is being replaced by magical thinking. “People

    want me here–here is better. I think I'll stay here.” What is going to

    happen when reality sets in? The bulk of people who are planning to stay

    don't understand the system here. Even though we abut borders, we are a

    vastly different nation. At least we are southerners. What is going to

    happen to the thousands being sent to Connecticut or Illinois or New

    Jersey? They are being offered free apartments, furniture etc, by

    generous and well meaning people who haven't thought the long term

    consequences through very well. A lot of the apartments are in areas

    where they won't have transportation or jobs. What is going to happen

    six months down the road when the magic wears off and the help slowly

    fades? How about the holidays for a people who thrive on ritual,

    tradition, and celebration?

    The trauma they are experiencing is so profound that we have no cultural

    term or machinery set up for it. The dead and nameless bodies by the

    thousands rotting in the water, arriving dead on the buses with them, or

    dying next to them in the shelters are a huge festering wound that no

    one dares mention. This is a true Diaspora the likes of which we haven't

    seen since Reconstruction. The immediate needs that are being addressed

    ignore the greater traumas yet to be spoken. No governmental system can

    survive the number of wounded and disillusioned people that we are going

    to see sprouting up all over America. Something far greater and more

    organized has to be done.

    Then to the helpers and what is happening there. Turf wars have already

    sprung up. In the name of “I know better than you do,” chaos and wasted

    energy are multiplying. The Red Cross was initially in charge of

    certifying the credentials of the helping therapists. After Oklahoma

    City and the pretenders who arrived there, this seemed like a wonderful

    clearing house. Everyone who wanted to help had to go through a brief

    orientation and a thorough checking of credentials. Only licensed

    professionals were allowed. Driver's licenses were checked for criminal

    records. This seemed to be a common sense excellent approach to the

    question of rapists, pedophiles, and other thugs being denied access to

    a vulnerable population. Actually, things ran better than I expected at

    the beginning. Then in came the physicians who I guess felt that their

    non-existent coursework in this area qualified them to better run

    things. Immediate chaos, disorganization, and all sorts of ersatz

    “helpers” began running around. They grabbed our current Red Cross

    badges and then stopped us from going back on the floor to finish seeing

    our patients without the new badges, which they just happened to be out

    of. We had an optometrist with prescriptive lenses but no glasses or

    readers and no idea when he'd ever see any. We had a deaf booth but no

    deaf helpers. In the midst of all this chaos, thousands and thousands of

    the walking wounded mixing with the powerless well-intentioned came the

    whispered word, pandemic. Lots of people are suddenly getting sick, and

    we have to have precautions. Don't eat or drink or touch the patients.

    We only have one bottle of disinfectant in the mental health section, so

    come back here–the length of the Convention Center–after each patient.

    “What of the people who are being cycled out of here?” “What are we

    sending into the population?” If people are sick and contagious, where

    are the precautions to separate the vulnerable? What of precautions such

    as masks and gloves to keep the medical professionals and first

    responders safe? All the here and now is suspended in the hope that

    maybe tomorrow will take care of itself and the worst won't happen.

    Those are the questions we asked on the first day.


    Therefore, there is no consistent answer or approach or forethought. I

    am no infection guru but as soon as I heard on day one that people with

    no water were forced to drink water with bloated bodies, feces, and rats

    in it, the thought of cholera, typhoid, and delayed disease immediately

    occurred to me. What if the fears of disease are correct? People are

    fanning out throughout America. Where is the CDC?

    In the age of computers, we are doing worse than the pencil squibs and

    the rolls of paper to log in the displaced after World War II. Literacy

    and computer access seems to be considered as a given for people who

    have lost it all. Accessing FEMA is through a website. People are in

    shelters waiting for FEMA to come “in a few days.” “Be patient.” The

    Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana pumped my hand and replied to my

    desperate queries about how to help people find their parents and

    babies, “Be patient–give us a few days.”

    The mothers who have lost their children, and there are many, and the

    children who have lost their parents, have had it with the “be patient”

    response. The shelters are surprisingly silent. It is hard to find the

    traumatized mothers because they cry silently. One mother asked how

    patient I would be if my five-month-old was somewhere unknown for over a

    week. Over and over, others would ask,” Do you think my baby has milk

    and diapers?” “Do you think they are being kind to my baby?” And then,

    so softly that I would have to ask them to repeat, “Do you think my baby

    is okay?” My response–the convenient lie. Every time I said, “of

    course”; I prayed to God that it was true.

    I am sure that there is a special ring of hell for the media: The

    survivor stories end-on-end for the titillation of the public. I heard

    Soledad O'Brien say something about the still unrecognized need to

    address the psychological trauma. I sent a response to the CNN tip-line

    that there were hordes of every manner of mental health professional

    working 24/7. CNN's response?Dr. Phil and the stories of the survivors”

    on Larry King.They went to the guy who lost his clinical license for

    serious professional infractions to tell the stories? I could see the

    “entertainer” down there gathering tales of the already exploited so

    that he and Larry could both pimp their ratings. The real unsung mental

    health heroes, the counselors, psychologists, social workers and

    psychiatrists dealing with un-medicated psychosis and severe traumatic

    responses were represented by Dr. “Keep-It-Real”? We don't need tabloid

    help from the media. Scream about accountability and point fingers for

    those who can't. Where is the real help from the media? Help us find

    those babies and parents and missing family. We have a man in one of the

    shelters who is caring for four kids. They call him uncle. He is

    actually the cousin of the fiance of the mother who is probably dead.

    The children are silent. They sit and play and weep with open mouths

    that can't scream. Where is the media to scream for them?

    Finally, to hell with this “no blame game.” The stories that I know to

    be true are enough to make me boil. The compassionate foreign doctors

    who can't find anyone to validate their credentials, the expensive

    mobile hospital still sitting parked waiting for federal paperwork to

    move into Louisiana, the five C130s sitting on the Tarmac in San Diego

    since the night of Katrina, still waiting for orders to move. Where the

    hell are the beds? We have some old people sleeping on hot plastic pool

    floats with no sheets. They are still no showers for people who have

    walked for hours through fetid waters. Their skin is breaking out in

    rashes. Still no showers. Where the hell are the DeCon showers bought

    with Homeland Security money that can shower 30 people at a time. The

    convention centers have no bathing facilities so the filth and skin

    reactions are getting worse. What of lice? There are no clothes for the

    really heavy and large. I was reduced to writing the women I knew who

    went to Weight Watchers to comb their attics for “before” outfits. When

    I arrived with the sack of my gatherings, I had to engage in a full

    scale battle and puff myself up to all my red-headed doctor fury to get

    them distributed to the women still sitting there in their stinking


    The survivors are like the Mayor of New Orleans who apologized to George

    Bush for his anger. “If we tell the way we feel, maybe help will stop.”

    All the apologists on the air distancing George and his co-vacationers and idiot appointeesshould be impeached. I liked Nagin when he calledit all bullshit. He was right. How about Haley Barbour complaining about

    the lack of support for his state? Did he so soon forget his past life

    and what he did to set up this government of spin artists? If they had

    acted like a government the body count would be less. The aid would be

    better managed. The days of filth, and feces, and death would have been

    ended sooner. God help all of the poseurs in charge when these folks

    finally get in touch with their justifiable rage. Did you see the White

    House's logo for the hurricane? George and some asshole in a ball cap

    against a background of Katrina waving the flag. They had the energy and

    time for a nice logo but no time to get the elements of help in gear?

    The tragedy is leavened by some moments of farce, the guy who arrived

    with a case of Gucci shoes in various sizes that he “saved” from his

    closet. The man wearing twelve expensive watches up his arm. I guess he

    is a punctual sort. There are the too-poignant-for-words vignettes. I

    saw a lady sitting on a blanket holding a photo of two children that

    she had pulled from the water. She kept crying and looking at it. I thought

    they were her children. She didn't know whose they were. They were just

    losses and she mourned them.

    Of course there were the criminals, thugs, and mobsters. One of the

    greatest indictments of the “spin machine” that is going to come from

    this situation will be the repeated characterizations of the victims as

    lawless and criminal. Over and over I heard people tell me about how

    ashamed they were to be portrayed that way. Ninety-nine percent of these

    people never were characterized as anything but lawful and good

    citizens. In their most desperate hours to be reduced to taking food and

    water to survive and then to be lumped with the television thieves and

    the shooters is too shameful for most of them to bear. I heard from

    hospital employees that survived on a cup of watered grits so that the

    patients could make it. And then I heard had they had to hide the ones

    that didn't in closets to keep up the morale of the others.

    The people that survived this tragedy and the people who help them all

    know one truth. The help and the love and the care that has been

    extended to them have been on a citizen-to-citizen basis. The churches,

    doctors, therapists, and ordinary citizens who are giving all they can

    in time and resources are managing to band-aid at the most elementary

    level-neighbor to neighbor. The government has failed We are more

    vulnerable now than before 9/11 because faith in the system is gone. No

    system can sustain itself as a viable entity when the citizenry are the

    walking wounded. Victims implode a system from within and expose its

    decay. This is the beginning of the end unless we can get a drastic

    change of philosophy and restore the government to a system “by the

    people for the people.” Right now nobody down here believes we have that.

    Anne Gervasi

    After every war

    someone has to clean up.

    Things won't

    straighten themselves up, after all.

    Someone has to push the rubble

    to the side of the road,

    so the corpse-filled wagons

    can pass.

    Photogenic it's not,

    and takes years.

    All the cameras have left

    for another war.

    From out of the bushes

    sometimes someone still unearths

    rusted-out arguments

    and carries them to the garbage pile.

    –Wislawa Szymborska

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