Two paramedics attending a conference were trapped in
New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina-Our Experiences by Larry Bradshaw & Lorrie Beth Slonsky
Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's store at
the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display
case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without
electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were
beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City.
Outside Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty
and hungry. The much-promised federal, state and local aid never
materialized and the windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There
was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and
distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and
systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat
and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.
We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home
yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at
a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or
front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the
Walgreen's in the French Quarter.
We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images of the
National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the "victims"
of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed, were the
real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of
New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick
and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators
running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching
over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars
stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical
ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs
of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck
Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their
neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped
hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And
the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising
communal meals for hundreds of those stranded. Most of these workers had
lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they
stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that
was not under water.
On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the
French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like
ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter
from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends
outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources
including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the
City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because
none of us had seen them.
We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with
$25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did
not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did
have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12
hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had.
We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born
babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the
buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived
at the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.
By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was
dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime
as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked
their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the
convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the
City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would
not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had
descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told
us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also
descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing
anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2
shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that
that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us.
This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile
We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were
told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water
to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to
decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command
post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly
visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we
could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short
order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He
told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway
and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up
to take us out of the City. The crowd cheered and began to move. We called
everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of
misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses
waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically,
"I swear to you that the buses are there."
We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great
excitement and hope. As we marched past the convention center, many locals
saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We
told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few
belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in
strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and
others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and
up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it
did not dampen our enthusiasm.
As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the
foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing
their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various
directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched
forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told
them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's
assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The
commander had lied to us to get us to move.
We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there
was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank
was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in
their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not
crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.
Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain
under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an
encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center
divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be
visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated
freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen
All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same
trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned
away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be
verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented
and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot.
Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and
disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers
stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be
hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New
Orleans had become.
Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck
and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the
freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight
turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure
with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and
creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the
rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a
storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for
privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even
organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of
C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).
This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When
individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for
yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or
food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look
out for each other, working together and constructing a community.
If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in
the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness
would not have set in. Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water
to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our
encampment grew to 80 or 90 people. From a woman with a battery powered
radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the
freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the
City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those
families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going
to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us"
had an ominous tone to 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. Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off
the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we
congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of
"victims" they saw "mob" or "riot." We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must
stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small
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
The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New
Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search
and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a
ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the
limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large
section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and
were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.
We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The
airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of
humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed
briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast
guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.
There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort
continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were
forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have
air-conditioners. In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two
filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any
possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were
subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.
Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated
at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food
had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat
for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not
carrying any communicable diseases.
This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heartfelt
reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give
her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us
money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official relief
effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need
be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.
Pamela Berrigan's List (The Organizer)
Hi Pam and Cynde, Thanks for keeping us connected. I am in Arizona with family,leaving for temporary work in California.Spent first part in BRworking shelters/triage/MashUnit Will return to New Orleans in 2 weeks,pick up the pieces. My area was Gentily. Will see what was spared. The comeback kid,LeslieO
Thanks Pam, This is great. Sisterhood is in tact and will be back next week. Let's rebuild New Orleans and our lives together. Love to all.
I'm in Maryville, TN with my mother, at my grandmother's house. Too bad I never got finished unpacking enough to hostess the book club, since my new house is lost. UNO is getting itself together for some off-site classes begining in Oct., so I am waiting to hear when they will need me back. When I return, I'll be living with my mother in Mandeville,until...
Hi everyone! This is Tacy (and Bruno). I am in Lafayette working and I am staying right around the corner from Pam and Cynde! I will be returning home Sunday. My house had minor damage. Stephanie Sander is in Tennesse alive and well! Regina is in Alabama with her daughter. Can't wait to see everyone again!
Hi, Melissa and I are in Houston with m niece...we have lost the house in Lakeview and both our jobs (schools).but we want to come back ASAP and are looking for a place to rent asap.. I'm committed to return...I was hoping this bookclub emal would show up...thanks so much..Kitty
Hi All, Glad to hear most seem to be ok. Linda Persson and I are in Lakeveiw aka Lake Ponchatrain now:) We're fine and living in Gonzales in a 40 ft travel trailer. We in process to trying to purchase a place locally and plan to eventually rebiuld. New contact number 225-445-2159.
Hi Pam, thanks for keeping us all in touch. I am in Monroe, LA at my sons home with my daughter and 2 dogs in tow. I am working the travel business from here and will go back to NO when we can locate a new building. I will be looking for a 2 bedroom apt. or home (like everyone else) soon. Cell 504-931-5839.
Pam, this is a GREAT idea. I evacuated to Atlanta area with Mary Ann and her cat. We spent most of our time on Lake Lanier at a house her brother owns. My house in Lakeview is probably a total loss, but Mary Ann has reports that her house is fine. It will be great to see friends again; I hear we can return as early as Monday, but there is no power and water (?).
It's great to hear from everyone. Barbara and I were in Houston, but now home. All cats and dogs made the trip with no problems and both of our homes are in relatively good shape. Looking forward to seeing you all soon...please call if anyone needs a hand with anything 616-3214.
I am working unbelievable hours at OChsner ER..and sleeping here, lots of security better these days than earlier after the storm. we are trying to get to normal hours, normal food, and etc..My home in diamondhead needs new shingles,,but is otherwise intact. I plan to rent it out..and go to Chris's in Picayune..
Pam and Cynde, Lisa and I have been terribly worried about you. i don't know how we happened on your list, but i'm glad we did and that you are all okay. feel free to call 504-220-0966. suzi and lisa
Hi everyone . So nice to know about all of you . I am In San Antoniowith my dog and cat and my friend Denise. . Denise evacuated my animals and we aare here at her brothers. Hope to return end of septembe. Have no house But have good spirits Hope to see you ALL soon. Pam, thank you for organizing and keeping the community together.YOU ROCK
Tuppy& I (Sharon) , my dad, our pets are n Houston;going to Tallulah ,LA(my goodness) soon Tup has a house there Unfortunately I will have to put dad in a home ; gotten really tough caring for him without the help we had in N.O. The good thing is that Tuppie knows the owner of the facility. We will return **
I am in Birmingham with Alice Rayer, Karly Kohler and five pets. I made an offer on a house in Denver so will be making that long drive as soon as I secure financing. My house got a lot of water. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whawn & I are safe in Orlando Fl. We will not return to N.O. Whawn got a job offer prior to the storm so we were already moveing (just earlier then expected). Not sure how much water we got in mid-city (it was raised 5 ft)but if we were lucky it will be available after we move our stuff. The appliances were new & under warrenty. we'll keep you posted.
Amy Archinal and I, our pets, and our house are all fine (as best we can tell). We are now in Austin. Whole Foods has been wonderful to its employees through this crisis and plan to rebuild/reopen asap. I will resume my therapy practice uptown/GD as soon as we are allowed to return. Thanks. Myra Hidalgo
Deborah & Cheryl "Cheerio" are staying Hammond for now, Gray has opened a temporary office in Baton Rouge. Cheryl has been back and forth to Ochsner for work. We had 3-4ft. of water so lost most of everything. We have our 3 dogs and 2 cats with us in Hammond. Warm hugs to all and please be safe.
wendy kahn (+ 1 guest)
HI EVERYONE WE ARE DOING FINE. WE ARE STAYING IN JACKSON MS. MY HOUSE HAD SOME DAMAGED BUT I LOST MY CAMP IN SLIDELL. SLIDELL WAS HIT REALLY HARD. HOPE TO SEE EVERYONE SOON AND GET BACK TO A NORMAL LIFE.
Kim and I are safe and sound in Baton Rouge. Our home in River Ridge luckily was not damaged at all. We're eager to return home ASAP.
Sue Killam (+ 1 guest)
Arden and I made it out of Memorial Medical Center Tuesday after the hurrincane. Despite assurances that would be fine in their hospital we decided to wade out into the water surrounding the hospital and finally reached my house. We were in Houston but are now in BR. Thinking of you all. Take care
hi everyone, i am in baton rouge. i am staying here since i lost my job, internship, and schooling. i lived in river ridge and will be moving out of the CReeks apartments. my apt itself was untouched. i had a one bedroom apt with a washer dryer and intrusion alarm. i can post whe i am moving out if someone wants to move right in.
I am safe and sound in Palm Beach County, FL with my 2 cats. My house is in good shape and I plan to return as soon as possible. I can be contacted at email@example.com
We are in Lafayette. E-mail is best for now since we are going to Covington tomorrow. Our Lakeview home took in 10 feet so we are sure we lost everything. Our kitties are with us and Coral's dad, whose escape from the flood is quite a story. We look forward to seeing ya'll and returning to some sense of normalcy. Keep the faith !
Hey I'm in River Ridge. My place in Bucktown is gone along with all the other camps along the 17th St. Canal..... Donna Moore.....A friend of mine spoke with Loretta Mims. From what I understand she is with Wendy in Texas.
I am outside of Sarasota. but will be back in New Orleans soon. Both my house and shop are OK. I will be having a big sale at the shop if anyone still has a house and needs anything. Shop of the Two Sisters !800 Magazine. Will possiblly be renting it out after the sale.
I'm in DC, but very anxious to get back to New Orleans. Gwen Filosa (my S.O.) is in N.O., writing daily for the T-Pic, going through decontamination showers daily. Neither of our homes (uptown) suffered any damage. About housing: There's rental property (state st & magazine) available. Not sure about pet policy. If interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi POam, we are in Auburn, Ala. with Linda's family. We lost everything but plan on rebuilding but it will probably be quite a while. I am just glad so many are safe.. Charlene and Linda
Clay and I are renting a house with 6 others in Gonzales. We know our house took water, just don't know how much. Mindy hopes to resume therapy practice in Metairie as soon as able to. We are so glad to hear about others.
Michele Beisler (+ 1 guest)
Michele and Sharon are staying with drummer Jan in Slidell. We had 5 ft of water in our house and are working on gutting it before Michele has to return to work. We plan to live in a 31 foot trailer in our driveway while we rebuild - it will be almost like camping! 512-589-9802 Sharon cell - Go to www.avatarlouisiana.com/katrina/home.html to see the fun we are having.
rebstillin (+ 1 guest)
Rebecca Stilling Thanks. Jeane Reeves and I are returning to our home in Metairie by Oct. 1, hopefully.I'll be starting my therapy practice again in Met. until Orleans is running. We're in Lafayette for now.
For those of you who don't know it, Cathy and I moved from New Orleans to Marietta, GA in June. We have a large home and are willing to help anyone who needs shelter. We are just worried about all of our friends in New Orleans and pray for you all.
Greetings All. I am up in D.C. Probably will be up here for at least 6 months. Will hopefully be back after that. Please keep me up to date! All the best...jb
Pat and I are here in Plaquemine after Connie and Claire graciously opened their home to us. We has been horrible, we have put in many hours trying to get the school system started upagain. Our house in Metairie faired out well, yet we are missing the new section of our house in Waveland. We do plan to rebuild and retire there! There is no place like "Gay St. Louis<
I will be returning to the Westbank ,(Terrytown) , as soon as possible. I will be seeking employment since I've lost my job due to Katrina. Presently in Pensacola,Fl.
hi pam. staying w my brother in san antonio. parents and 2 kitties are w me. hope to return to NO at the end of the month. home had 3-4 ft of water. waiting to hear about my job.
Hi Pam. I am working in Philly, and Dee is in Houston. Our dogs are staying with a lady in Milam, TX that works at the marina where we stayed when we evacuated. The house is OK, and all family is well. I'll be in Philly for at least 4 months, and Dee hopes to be back by December. Keep in touch!
Ade Lowrey - Lafayette with 4 kitties. Folks are in CT with my sister.
My two dogs and I are doing well in Killeen, Tx. My mobile home is still in tact and I will be coming home friday 9/23. How about a group hug!
Barbara Trahan & I are together in Atlanta; Mae Falgout is closeby at a friend's house. I may stay in Atlanta. Sending best regards to everyone; stay safe.
Marie A. Bookman
Hi Pam..Stacy, her boys & I evacuated our home in the Lakeview/Lake Vista area to Lafayette, La. The boys are in school in Morgan City, where we will live temporarily. We also lost our home, cars and belongings, but plan to rebuild. My law office @ Energy Center is okay, but I am not able to access my office. I plan to be around & will keep you posted. #504-421-2469
My home in Destrehan is in tact. I am currently housing my 75 year old dad. Angie Giaise is in Texas and Lynn Lewis Robison is in Georgia. For those still in the area I was thinking we should have a group support event. I'll volunteer my house. let me know what you think. essage ends here **>k.
We are at a friend's house in Lafayette, CO. So glad to hear you both (and kids) are ok. We've been worried. We start back at work on Oct.1 and plan to be back home on Sept. 27. We will be ready to help you and all who need us. Love, Syl
Hi ladies! I am in Baton Rouge with friends. I have no definite news about my job, but no universities are reopening until the Spring. I'd really would like to return to New Orleans, but it all depends on what Xavier University plans to do with us, faculty and staff.
CELL 504-415-0702 LAND LINE 225-673-2854 we're safe at connie&claire's;jane kennedy&laura all of us are working. our houses.ours had 1-4'inside? laura 2-3';connie&claire's seems to have stayed dry. we are definitely going home to rebuild. glad to hear from you. has anyone heard from or about Loretta Mims? love ya'll donna
Hi Pam, I am in Lafayette also. Drop me an email at Graygecko@yahoo.com and maybe we can hook up for a bit of fun.insurance pays us through January. No word yet on the future. Not sure where I'm going.
Hi! I made it to So. Calif. where I grew up. Living with parents but plan to go to Boston for a 3 month sabbatical. My dog and cat are fine and my house in Uptown appears to be fine as is the Research Institute. Plan to come home asap.
I am at Ochsner Hospital. My dogs are in North Carolina with my cousin. My house is underwater and my car got stolen, but I still have a job. I am staying.
I'm in Lima, Ohio and will be back to New Orleans as soon as they let us in! Jillian Shingledecker
Hi Pam, I live in Mandeville with my two boys and our house is pretty smashed up. Lots of pine (reminds me of Christmas). We have power and water and a new view of the sky right from my kitchen table with an open roof skylight. Plenty to be grateful for tho. Sending good wishes to all who have not done so well. Take care.
diane here in chattanooga my job is in skincare .my apt in midcity flooded.however,will move back when able