Thursday, September 08, 2005

The tourists are talking 

And it ain't pretty:
Holiday in hell: Sask. pair recount ordeal in New Orleans
While New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin appealed to the masses to get out of the city, Mitzel and Johnson tried everything they could to escape. They bought plane tickets and tried to rent a car, and when those plans failed, they holed up for four days in the Monteleone Hotel with Mitzel's cousin, Eugene Herman of Regina. When all hotels were ordered to evacuate, they appealed to National Guard personnel for help in getting out. "The first four days were spent trying to contain us, to herd us," Johnson said. "There was no thought given to evacuation. It was all police and National Guard, and it was all, contain, contain, contain. Focus on the looters. Shoot to kill anybody after dark. Get everybody together under one roof so we can control them. We didn't need that. We needed out of town." Officials directed them to the Superdome, where conditions were unsanitary and reports were leaking out of lawlessness and death. "I think it was very frustrating for people to keep hearing 'get out, get out,' when all we were trying to do was get out and nobody could take us," Johnson said. Johnson didn't see many signs of disaster planning or emergency preparedness. Although guards told them repeatedly buses were coming to "take them to safety," the buses never materialized. "We didn't believe it any more," Mitzel said. "We made a joke of it," Johnson said. After spending a night on the streets of New Orleans, finally, buses and trucks picked up the pair and their companions. They took the tourists to a holding area in nearby Jefferson Parish that Mitzel describes as a "refugee camp." "The conditions in that refugee camp, I don't think you want to think about that," he said. "They were horrible." Mitzel and Johnson describe the camp as a swamp where 5,000 people waited in the blazing heat for more buses to evacuate them. A mere four portable bathrooms to serve the masses were overflowing. There were no garbage containers, and people of all ages and their animals were wading through ankle-deep excrement and Louisiana mud. Some had been there for 32 hours. A breakthrough came when two bus drivers got lost, and some helpful Louisiana State Troopers directed them to a back lot where about 100 tourists were loaded on and taken to Baton Rouge and Alexandria, La. In Alexandria, Johnson and Mitzel bought new clothes and luggage and secured flights to Atlanta, and then Saskatoon. Although Mitzel said the American government was the "bottleneck" holding people back from getting help, Johnson said she's disappointed in companies who could have stepped up to help thousands escape before the hurricane hit. "There should have been an immediate plan for evacuation," Johnson said. "Instead of Greyhound (buses) pulling out at 6 o'clock on Saturday, 36 hours before the hurricane, they should have brought in 100 more buses and started taking people out. Instead of Northwest (Airlines) cancelling their flights at 9 a.m., fully 24 hours before the hurricane struck, they should have been putting on more flights and evacuating people."
Two paramedics write about Hurricane Katrina - our experiences -- note that parts of this story were posted on Daily Kos a few days ago, too:
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 in elevators. 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 [there follows an incredible description of three days of needlessly abusive, gratitiously insulting treatment by NO police and military.]official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt 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.
From the Herald Sun newspaper in South Carolina, 3 Duke students tell of 'disgraceful' scene describes the journey of three students who piled into a car and went to New Orleans to help:
. . . the students saw four or five bodies. National Guard troopers seemed to be checking the second and third floors of the building to try to secure the site. "Anyone who knows that area, if you had a bus, it would take you no more than 20 minutes to drive in with a bus and get these people out," Buder said. "They sat there for four or five days with no food, no water, babies getting raped in the bathrooms, there were murders, nobody was doing anything for these people. And we just drove right in, really disgraceful. I don't want to get too fired up with the rhetoric, but some blame needs to be placed somewhere." By about 7 p.m., the students made their way back to the boy on Magazine Street. He directed them to some people "who really needed to get out." The resulting evacuation began at a house at the corner of Magazine and Peniston streets. The first group included three women and a man. The students climbed into the front seats of the four-door Hyundai, and the evacuees filled the back seat. They left the city and headed back to Baton Rouge. There they deposited the man at the LSU medical center and took the women to dinner. The women later found shelter with relatives, and the students got about four hours' sleep inside the LSU chapel. At 6:30 a.m. Sunday, they made their second run into New Orleans, returning to the house at Magazine and Peniston streets. This time they picked up three men and headed back to Baton Rouge. Two of the men were the husbands of two of the women evacuated the night before. The students reunited them with their wives and put the two families on a bus for Texas.
The BBC reports Briton slams US rescue 'shambles':
Without their driving licences they were unable to hire a car and flee the city ahead of the storm and decided to remain in their hotel after being warned the Superdome would be too dangerous. The handling of the relief operation had been "horrendous", Mr Scott added. "I could not describe how bad the authorities were - taking photographs of us as we are standing on the roof waving for help, for their own personal photo albums, little snapshot photographs." He said at one point a group of girls was standing on the roof of the hotel lobby and called to passing rescuers for help. "They [the authorities] said to them 'well show us what you've got' - doing signs for them to lift their t-shirts up. The girls said no, and they said 'well fine', and motored off down the road in their motorboat. "That's the sort of help we had from the authorities," he said. Mr Scott added: "The only information we got from anybody in authority was if a policeman came past and we shouted to them out of the windows. "The only information we ever got off them was negative, 'Do not go here. Do not go there'. "There was no, 'Are you OK? Are you safe? Have you got water?'. "Most of the time they would ignore us." At night, the police presence disappeared altogether, leaving the stranded guests and staff to defend themselves. "You would hear shots ringing out during the night and that was one of the most worrying things, because we had no security," Mr Scott said. "We patrolled the halls and checked the doors throughout the night in the hotel - but if someone had wanted to come in, there was not much we could have done about it." They had a torch - but, Mr Scott said, "you knew if you went down in the dark the torch would only make you a better target". Nevertheless, the staff and guests had managed to chase one group of looters from the building, he added. He then had had to wade waist-deep through the filthy water to barricade the hotel's doors. "It was like wading through an open sewer. "It reeked to high heaven and made you want to vomit. Outside I could see bodies floating in the water." Mr Scott told BBC News he had ripped wires attached to speakers from the walls of the flooded hotel bar and tied tables and chairs together as makeshift barricades . . . When they were finally rescued it had been by Louisiana game wardens, who had entered the hotel with rifles and fixed bayonets, Mr Scott said.

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