Katrina– “A Wakeup Call”, by M.M.

Here’s a little insight for everyone. This is a brief synopsis of a firsthand account of why everyone should prepare for the unknown. I have been a police officer for most of my adult life in the New Orleans metro area and was working when Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The media focused mainly on the impoverished areas, but the world failed to see the whole picture.

I cannot begin to describe the stress present prior to the storm making landfall. Several questions consumed me during the week leading up to this event: Is this going to be bad enough to send my wife and children out of the region? If so, where is the best place for them to go? Will our home be lost? Should I say goodbye to my job and leave with my family? Will I survive this event? Looking back, I can only thank God the decision was reached for them to evacuate. I am from the area and had lived there all my life. I worked in the city I grew up in, which was approximately fifteen square miles with around 73,000 people. Since my childhood, I had experienced several intense storms and thought I was prepared, but I had no idea what was about to unfold.

While the storm was nearing landfall, all patrols were cancelled and all personnel were ordered to the police station to wait for the high winds to subside. During the night, the upper floors of the station (which by the way is constructed of all concrete and brick) were evacuated as a precaution after slight building sway was detected. It is hard to describe the power and noise of the winds that night. We watched as roofs were torn away and the streets became lanes for flying debris of all types.

After the sun came up, we quickly realized the majority of the city was not accessible due to high flood water and debris. “Search and Rescue” was the initial priority. The city only had a few high water vehicles, so it was a slow go operation. The fire department was on lock down, and initially we had no EMS services. The police department was performing the search and rescue operations with only a handful of officers having any prior training for the task.

From the beginning, it was obvious our command staff was not prepared to support the troops. Responding to calls for service was very difficult, because the terrain had changed drastically. Police radio communications were intermittent at best. During the first night of patrol, I spent the majority of my time in waist deep water pulling citizens from their flooded homes. At the beginning of the second night, the two patrol sergeants for our squad (for whom I had great respect) ordered us to assemble in a parking lot after roll call to set up a contingency plan for communication because the radios were down. The chief of police observed our squad in the lot shortly after roll call. After our sergeants attempted to explain why we had assembled, the chief accused our sergeants of being cowards and ordered them back to the station to work as guards. That was a real morale booster! At this point, a buddy and I decided to break the single man unit rule and ride as a two-man unit for officer safety.

As the days passed, we were able to patrol more areas of the city. The damage was overwhelming. Some businesses and houses were completely destroyed. Many streets could not be navigated. There were hundreds of trees and power lines down. There were natural gas leaks everywhere and no electricity, sewage, or water. The root systems of downed trees had destroyed large sections of sidewalks and large grassed areas were lifted like carpet. The odor of raw sewage and decomposition became unbearable in some areas. It was easy to get disoriented driving through neighborhoods I thought I knew very well, just because most street signs were gone, not to mention the darkness. I had worked the graveyard shift for my entire career and was used to conducting business in the dark. However, this was a whole new level of darkness. Imagine the only lights in the city being either your flashlight or headlights. Many houses burned to the ground because there was no water pressure to fight the fires. Many pets were left behind. The city was littered with decomposing animals. The smell of death began to overwhelm me at certain times.

The sound of generators became a beacon for investigation. Many were killed from carbon monoxide poisoning from running generators without proper ventilation. Within three days time, most convenience stores had been looted clean. The looting became widespread and entered into residential areas. The poor light discipline of looters became easy targets for our night sweeps of the neighborhoods. The sleep deprivation was brutal. We essentially operated on auto pilot.

The lack of coordination of government agencies was ridiculous. One of the nights we were called for backup at the New Orleans International Airport, which had been shut down and turned into a makeshift triage center. A military convoy containing several school buses filled with refugees from the Superdome had stopped in the roadway. There was a two hour standoff because the ranking convoy commander stated he had been given orders from his superior to drop the refugees at the airport. A fight ensued between a member of the military and my agency because we refused to accept the people from the buses. It’s a pretty intense moment when two different armed agencies are butting heads during an already intense situation. Many of the people on the buses were in bad shape suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration and had to be removed for medical attention. Thank God a decision was made for them to continue on because we had no social services or vacant spots at our already overfilled shelters.

The city I worked for was located in Jefferson Parish and was approximately 13 miles outside of Orleans Parish (which sustained much higher flood waters). The area where the 17th street canal levy failed is the dividing line between Orleans and Jefferson Parish. We were the lucky ones, because the levy system failed on the Orleans Parish side of the canal. Just to put flood damage in perspective, the deepest flood water in my home was approximately eight inches. I also had roof collapse in two rooms. My home was a total loss due to mold. My home was only 2.5 miles from the police station, and it took three days for me to get to it to assess the damage. The only reason my city flooded was because the parish president gave an order to unman the pumping stations. By the way, he is currently serving time for felony payroll fraud. There’s sweet justice.

It is amazing how many people, even in this area, continue to live in a bubble. People, even some members of my own family, seem to forget things too quickly. Many of them evacuated to Florida during Katrina and spent a few weeks vacationing on the beach. Some of them returned home after the horrors had ended with minimal or no damage to their property and still have a false sense of security.

My city recovered fairly quickly after the flood waters subsided. Most social services were back online after three or four weeks. However, the effects were long lasting. Many were forced to live in FEMA trailers for over a year while they repaired and rebuilt their homes. During this event, the local and federal governments were ill prepared, and this was just an isolated geographical area. The local police, fire, and EMS could not provide sufficient services, even though the majority of the people evacuated. Our (the police) living conditions were horrible, and we had assets and a large group of people working together (sort of). After experiencing this event, it is difficult to imagine a much worse man-made event.

This account of what took place during Katrina is an edited version that excludes a lot of gory details and only briefly touches on some of the hardships that were experienced throughout this ordeal to give an idea of how unprepared and uncoordinated the authorities were in dealing with this natural disaster. This is an area of our country prone to this type of weather, and yet still the proper supplies and systems were not in place. New Orleans and the surrounding cities have been forever negatively impacted by this incident. Although 10 years have passed, several of the section 8 housing districts are still in disarray and have become abandoned. They have become havens for the illegal drug trade and have dispersed the ghetto community into the surrounding cities and neighborhoods, decreasing residential property values. The demand for reconstruction and roofing work following the disaster paved the way for a surge of the illegal alien community who never left. Warehouse districts are filled with illegal aliens who have been provided bunk space by construction companies looking to take advantage of cheap labor practices.

I would like to thank Mr. Rawles, the sponsors, and all of the folks who have written articles for this blog. It has been a wealth of information for my family and me and has helped us to better understand the need to pursue a prepared and self-sufficient lifestyle. It has been a long time coming, but I have finally been able to coordinate a move to the Redoubt. It is troubling to leave extended family and friends behind, especially the ones who are aware but are not in a position to relocate. I can only wish the best for them in the troubled times to come. If nothing else, I will have a place of refuge for family, if they are lucky enough to reach me after all TSHTF.