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Another first hand account of life in New Orleans

By September 4, 2005katrina

A friend of mine sent me this email that he received from a young lawyer, whom I happen to know.  He just recently left New Orleans and wrote this email to some friends of his.  I’m posting it below (the underlining is mine).  I’m pretty certain this is an accurate account based on the person who wrote it.  I’ve striken his name and the names of his friends since I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to post it without his permission.  If he contacts me and says it’s okay I’ll put the names back in:

Dear Friends,

I want to thank all of you for your heartfelt responses of love, encouragement and offerings of shelter. I also want to thank all of you have offered employment. I am with my mother and brother at his house in Morgan City, Louisiana, only 87 miles West of N.O. My father is doing fine as he was able to evacuate as well.

As many of you know, I have spent the last four days living in the second floor of my neighbor’s home on Napoleon Avenue with 8 1/2 feet of water on my doorstep. I was blessed to have two good friends stay with me who recognized the needs of our neighbors, and accepted the dangers and perils of being a volunteer during a time of mass tradgedy, compounded by confusion, poor planning and an inconconceivable response. Their names are XXXXX and YYYYYY and I am eternally greatful for their company, encouragement and ideas.

XXXX,  YYYY and I spent four days in boats going from house to house in the immediate flooded areas around my home. We started at daylight and drove our boats home at sunset. We were able to rescue over 100 neighbors, but we had to leave thousands behind. We focused on areas where no other water-based rescue operations were taking place and we could not travel more than one block without hearing the cries for help, people beating from the inside of attics and the pleas for supplies. These people were confused, scared, dehydrated, hungry, tired, elderly, disabled, people needing oxygen, needing dialysis.

The wealthier neighbors kept tabs on which neighbors were staying. They also had communication equipment and plenty of essential supplies. The poorer neighbors were not as organized. They had water for only a day or two. Sixteen people to some houses. The poor continue to suffer the most.

They have no idea how to swim and many are taught that playing with a pit bull would be safer than going into the water for fear of drowning. So they have stayed in their houses, baking, dying.

We had a radio at night to keep us "informed." Our local news radio station, WWL, failed miserably. They were not broadcasting where the drop off stations were. They were not informing the locals stuck in the water of the best escape routes. While we heard screams at night and banging on rooftops from trapped survivors, WWL was entertaining political debate discussing fault, blame and rebuilding New Orleans. Why weren’t they discussing volunteer efforts and relief? Still today, where is their leadership?

While I don’t think it is an appropriate time to share share the sad realities of what I’ve seen in N.O. as I type this message to you all, I say that I am glad to share the details if you want to know.

I am very greatful to be alive and I am deeply troubled and saddened that I left. I never met one aggressive person. I was never intimidated. I felt no threat of violence, other than the mass hype being proliferated by the media. The reports of the media caused me and many other volunteers to leave the city in fear of our lives – maybe this was good, I just don’t know.

I am in Morgan City and I can mobilize over 100 people who will be happy to participate in saving lives TODAY. They are local fisherman and sportsman who have boats and are willing to go into the city with me – but we can not get any clearance. No response from the Mayor’s office. No response from the federal agencies I have contacted. My friends in Morgan City report that over 400 volunteer fisherman from the St. Martin, St. Mary and Lafayette area have been turned around and told they could not go into the City of New Orleans because is was "too dangerous" or for some other reason. I have been sending a video and details of this disaster to news agencies around the country. I am hoping that someone can get through to the "brass." My fear is that it is all too little and too late.

For all of my friends who live in other cities around our country, please don’t let this happen to you. Make sure your Mayor has a plan. Make sure your Governor has a plan. You don’t want to be walking around your home town FIVE DAYS AFTER a national emergency wondering why you, as a private citizen, can still see with your unaided eyes hundreds of people trapped, dying slowly, with no hope of survival.


The day I can return to New Orleans, I will. I will help clean the streets, remove the debris and rebuild my city according to the historical codes that are in place. I will help the displaced and assist in relief efforts
.  The spirit of New Orleans will not be broken. Our natives are strong, generous and carry the same passion for the Crescent City that I have shared with you all.

I thank our Lord for guidance and support during those solitude and lonely nights on "lake Napoleon." I thank all of you for your thoughts, prayers and text messages of encouragement. I thank XXXX and YYYY for making our small volunteer effort possible.

This is a poignant first-hand account of someone who helped and is committed to helping again when he can return to New Orleans. While it seems easy to criticize now from a position of safety, I can say that I share his sentiment about WWL radio not broadcasting the best escape routes.  The one I took was clearly open and was never mentioned in any of the news reports that I listened to.  I probably would have been reluctant to try it except that the folks from Bisso Marine were set up to go that way when I was trying to figure out how to leave. 

The question is not whether we had insufficient resources to help people (obviously they were insufficient and that’s one unavoidable aspect of a major tragedy like this one), but whether the limited resources that were available were wisely allocated and employed.  It’s probably too easy to criticize and so perhaps we shouldn’t get too caught up in that, but it’s hard to believe that we have done anywhere near as good a job as we could have done in coping with the immediate aftermath of this terrible tragedy.


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.
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