Eight years ago today I sat and watched Hurricane Katrina move directly for New Orleans as it painted the radar solid red and purple. Several hours later the storm hit and gave me an experience never seen before.
I covered many hurricanes over the years but Katrina was the one that was the wake up call for how dangerous the storms really were. As I was assigned to New Orleans, a friend was not to far east in Mississippi. Don Hirsh also covered storms for many years for the weather channel.
In the next few hours both our lives changed.
New Orleans told all it’s people to evacuate or take shelter at the Super Dome in downtown New Orleans. The streets were bare as it moved in in it’s fury. Almost instantly pump stations were not able to clear water and the major freeway began to flood.
Even through the intense rain some brilliant thief stole a U S Naval Officers vehicle as he was trying to make it in for duty call. Only then did he realize he couldn’t travel any further east on the freeway and gave it up as the official took him for a ride at gunpoint, to find the police I was told.
Winds were ripping roofs off and at times you could see parts of the Super Dome flying off.
Streets continued to flood in the downtown area but amazingly Bourbon Street remained high and dry.
Katrina moved through and the very first rescue done by the Coast Guard was just off Interstate 10. A man and his mother were set down onto the freeway from a rooftop below.
Just before dark we boarded a military helicopter to start extracting people from the Super Dome. As the helicopter approached pinging type sounds were heard and the pilot banked very hard and pulled up. He then announced we were taking small arms fire from down below.
Rescues continued through the night and the next morning not just storm damage was evident but was looting from stores. Windows being crashed, big screen televisions being carried in chest deep water out of the area,
A Ozarka water truck was seen crossing the bridge with the rear doors open and over 30 people riding in the compartments.
New Orleans Police weren’t ready for this as near riot conditions took place at the police station as people tried to enter. Firefighters actually set up sand bags across the front of the station doors with some armed officers protecting the stations.
Traveling from Bourbon Street to City Hall where officials were gathered could be done one of two ways. By military trucks which there were few or wade the still waist deep water. t chose the walk and was met halfway by a young Black male climbing out the front window of a drug store carrying walkers. Within seconds a shot rang out and the bark on the tree next to me splintered. Needless to say I waited for a ride back.
Late the next day a convoy moved in and made it as far as Veterans Blvd where the freeway was blocked with water filled plastic barriers used to divide the opposing lanes. The winds blew it across the freeway. Unable to go further they set up everything right there, medical, transportation and communications. Within an hour helicopters were arriving with evacuees and put on busses. There were more helicopters tan busses and the area for the next few days became extremely crowded. The odor was overpowering as there were few portable restrooms available for the thousands there,
Every day more resources arrived and more people and pets were evacuated, the airport runways were still partially under water as were routes to it. Due to that helicopter continued to land.
Closer to town Game Wardens from Texas started arriving to start the search of homes. In the smell of death was already in the street as bodies were recovered and each home was marked with spray paint to indicate it had been searched.
Aerial views of the dike looked worse hour by hour. Helicopters were diverted from rescue to carrying sandbags and material to attempt to secure the beeches in the concrete dikes.
Several buildings burned to the ground. A shopping mall which caught fire partially due to looters in a Sears store had a moderate response from firefighters as they were met by gunfire. As many took cover one fire truck had the hose cut from it and was stolen.
With gas stations closed and so many news crews still on the scene several enterprising young men got a pickup and a trailer and traveled several hundred miles for fuel. When they returned the cost was $6.00 a gallon which was not an issue due to the fact the news operations could continue without several hours for driving to refuel.
Within a few days faces from the Conroe area started to appear. Several firefighters, PHI Air Medical crews, CCEMSA and MCHD crews with supplies and helping hands. PHI Air Medical crews flew almost non stop evacuating hospitals and moving sick and injured around. It wasn’t unusual to see a crew member asleep under the helicopter or on the ground in the seat.
Within a week some people started to return to their homes to retrieve property. One woman who recently lost her husband traveled by boat in the street close to Lake Pontchartrain. A Regions Bank sat with water to the second floor, cars in driveways with roofs barely visible.
Arriving at her home the boat was tied to the rain gutter as climbed out onto the roof and through a window. Even in the short time the water had taken over, sheetrock was covered in black mold, the second floor of her home was dry but the waterline as almost 7 feet up the stairway.
Every day a new challenge came up for rescue workers and evacuees. The looting and damage beyond the storm was something you could not believe. Police cars sat with entire wheels missing, windows in businesses not hit by water were gone as were most of the contents within.
The covered entrance of Harrah’s Casino was used to serve thousands of meals daily.
Twelve days were complete with moist towellette baths, It was then a friend on the West bank was finally able to reach me. Having a generator and window air conditioners it was nice to finally relax somewhat at night.
As for Don Hirsh, he had to be rescued in Mississippi. Lost all his equipment and his vehicle when Katrina came in.
I will be adding additional videos over the next few days.
VIDEO ONE ARRIVING AS THE STORM COMES IN
VIDEO 2 RESCUES START AND COMMAND POST SET UP