Deborah J., Uptown New Orleans, Mother
September 20, 2005
Austin Convention Center
What I feel needs to be said about this is that everything was done wrong. We was told about the storm maybe like a week before it really hit. They didn't know if the storm was going to come: it was like it was sitting there, didn't know what it wanted to do. And you know, New Orleans has been real lucky so many years, storms have come close and then wash up and pass in another direction. The last serious storm, I believe, was Betsy. I was like eight years old, I'm 48 now, and it was 40 years ago.
Like every other New Orleanser, I didn't pay it no mind. I look and I see. So when they decided that it really was going to come, the Mayor didn't really make it a big thing. I think the President had declared a state of emergency. But I mean--seeing as though he wasn't really worried about it, until maybe like three days before the storm... So, Jefferson Parish, (I live in Orleans Parish) Jefferson Parish, they evacuated early. And the mayor or whoever of Jefferson Parish made it mandatory that they go. But our mayor didn't make it mandatory, until it was voluntary. So figure, if he's not making it mandatory, then it can't be too bad.
So he didn't make it mandatory until the day before the storm. And I am poor. I don't have a lot of money, you know. I had an automobile--it wasn't a brand new automobile. I don't think I could've went too far with it, because [laughs] the tires been real bad. I didn't have enough money to gas it up because the day before the storm when he decided to make it mandatory, gas jumped from $2.59 to $3.10 a gallon! The gas stations was closing up, you had to wait in the line four or five blocks long to get gas, and even if I could have got it, I wouldn't have been able to get enough to gas up and go nowhere--my truck wasn't going to make it. So I had no other choice but to ride it out.
Well, the storm passed. It was pretty rocky, you know. I boarded up what I could, and I got what supplies I could get. We sustained some water damage, some broken window panes, we had a little flood, but the water went down. So the next day, me and my daughter, we didn't have no electricity. But we had water, and they turned the gas off. So next day me and my daughter sitting there on the porch, and we see the water coming. and we like, 'Where is the water coming from?!' It had drained. Well, maybe it didn't drain a couple blocks down or something, and it just pushing now this way to drain. It just kept getting higher and higher. I wanted to cook something to eat, and didn't have no gas. My sister live, I'd say, eight, ten blocks from where I was living. So by the time I decided to put something in a bag go by her and cook, I go downstairs to get something out my deep freezer, and it was floating. Say, Lord, have mercy! Still I'm not paying no attention. I'm thinking 'The storm passed!' 'Cause this is the day after the storm.
So I go upstairs and I get something out of my refrigerator, put it in a bag, head out, wade through the water to my sister house. When we get by my sister, like I say, eight ten blocks, she had water, but not that much water. I live on Milan Street, and I'm like one, two blocks from Napoleon Avenue. No water. Dry. And Napoleon Avenue is the street where rich people stay. It's got expensive homes. So, we get to Claiborne Street: there's a little water, but not very much. So we walk down Napoleon to my sister house. She lives one block off Napoleon, one block off Roulette. Close to Baptist Hospital. So we turned off Napoleon, one block, had a little bit of water...we get on her block, I say it was about maybe to my knees and I'm like 5'11".
So, we get there, and we fry something, some hamburgers and we eating, and as we sitting on the porch the water getting higher, higher and higher. So I'm thinking again, I'm thinking that maybe the water was draining again from off one side of Claiborne to the other side. So like I say, I'm 5'11, before I know it, the water had got about up to my neck. And we had to put a sheet on the porch and we just had to stand out and hold signs up and the helicopters flying and we waving and they flying. Finally, a big truck comes and rescues us. So we get on the truck: on it they got women and children, they got old people out there that got left [behind].
So, we get on and on it they got a policeman, a Black policeman, tells us,
"Well, ya'll should have evacuated."
"Well, there's a lot of us that couldn't."
"If ya'll wanted to go to evacuation, ya'll could've found a way."
"How could you say that to us? You don't know what we could've did."
So, they go back up Napoleon, no water. St. Charles Avenue with the mansions, no water. Magazine Street, all the antique stores, no water. All the way to the Convention Center. We get to the Convention Center, I'd say, maybe we was the second set of people to get there. It was very quiet. After we got there, they just started bringing them. They was bringing people from out the 9th Ward, who's on top of roofs. People from out the East, who was stuck out there for two, three days, I mean, their houses just underwhelmed.
And I am telling you, that was the most horriblest experience I have ever seen in my life. Me, my ten year-old daughter, my sister and her thirty-two year-old son, we lived out there seven days. Five days we had no food. No water. I seen children die, I seen old people die, I seen murders, I seen rapes. I seen people murder people then cut their heads off. I seen the troops shoot people. They ride around with guns almost like we was in a prison camp.
And then, I think that maybe on the fifth day, the troops finally came. They fly in in their helicopters. The first thing they dropped into us was boxes of cigarettes. Not food. Not water. Boxes of cigarettes. Two hours later they drop us water. They dropped it. And half of it burst open cause they was so high up when they dropped it. Two hours after that they drop us some army food in a box we got to pour water in to heat up. We was hungry, we had no other choice. It was horrible. We had to live among dead bodies. It was just.... It was horrible. We had to sleep in the streets. Not on the sidewalks, in the streets. Cause the sidewalks was full of urine and body waste, dead bodies. And we had to sleep out there in the hell of waste and the dead bodies.
I think the government failed us. I think the mayor failed us, I think the government failed us. I think our president failed us. They can't give us enough money to replace what they took. They can't. They can't do nothing to replace what was took. They can't do nothing to compensate us.
I mean, I been in New Orleans all my life. All my life. So was my mom. So was her mama, probably her mama. They can't do nothing to replace that, there's nothing they can do. There's nothing they can do, there's nothing they can do to replace what my ten year-old daughter had to live through. Ten years old and this child looking at young girls getting raped, getting their throats cut, put in freezers, people getting killed and shot, getting their heads cut off, just dead bodies lined up, the police, nobody picking up these bodies, they were leaving them there, just throwing a sheet on them, like it wasn't nothing, like it wasn't nothing.
I had one son was on dialysis. Every time he would go up to a policeman and ask him could he go get him to a hospital, there was nothing they could do for him, nothing. My poor son swell up like a balloon. One day we was sitting outside--I guess what we call home out on the street--he look at me at say "Mom, I'm tired, I can't take no more." He walked off and I've never seen him no more. I've never seen him again. Never seen him again.
I'm assuming he walked off and they either shot him to death or he just walked off somewhere and died. You know. There's nothing they can do to compensate me for what I went through. Nothing. Nothing. They have ruined our lives, ruined the lives of our children. I've seen babies. I've seen women sit down and her baby died in her arms because they refused to take this baby, to get this baby some medicine, this baby had half a heart -- three months old. Baby turning purple, her lips, her hands, her feet turning purple. They refused to give the baby medical treatment. That child died in her mama's arms.
I guess that's all I got to say. That's it. I think the government, everybody failed us.
Austin opened up their hearts, took us in. They tried to make us feel as comfortable as they could. They tried to help us through the pain. I don't know about other people, but there is nothing they could do to help us, to ease my pain. FEMA can't give me enough money. Can never give me enough money, never, ever, ever.
Guess that's my story. It's hard for me to say whether I will return to New Orleans. It's still my home. It's the only home I've ever known. I think people of Austin are doing what they can to be helpful. But I don't know if there is anything that can help me right now, because of the hurt in my heart, there's nothing anyone can do.
I mean, my little girl is ten years old, and I really didn't think she was going to make it through it. But she's a strong little girl, and she made it through it. I know that somewhere along the line that I'm going to have to get counseling for her, I'm going to have to get counseling for myself, you know. I have nightmares, there's a lot of times I just sit outside and just cry, you know. I'm just dealing with a lot of bad feelings. Like I said, my son just walked off and died, cause he just couldn't take it no more: he was sick, he was on dialysis, he was swollen up like a balloon, and they did nothing. One day he said he couldn't take it no more and walked off, I didn't see him no more.
I know he didn't walk completely away, because they were shooting to kill if people tried to walk completely off. So either they shot him to death or he went somewhere and said, "I'll just lay down" and died. So.
Like I said, they all failed us. I can't see--9/11, they went to their rescue. Tsunami, they went to their rescue. Where were they for us? Seven whole days and nobody could come in there and get us. Seven whole days, five of the seven they starved us with no water, no food, but they want to talk about-- but I'm not giving right to them breaking into stores-- I'm not trying to justify [stealing], it's wrong, stealing, wrong is wrong, you can't make a right from a wrong--but they [those who stole] did what they thought they had to do to survive. Alright. I'm done.