The storm, furious as it was, turned out to be the least of it.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the shores of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. But it took its worst human toll on New Orleans. The morning after the storm, its compromised levees broke and water poured into the fabled city. Residents who didn’t have the means to evacuate scrambled onto roofs. The less mobile-the sick, the elderly, the very young-languished and some died in watery death traps. Then came the questions. Had New Orleans not been mostly Black and poor, might better provisions have been made to evacuate the residents? Might the city’s levees have been shored up years before? Might the government have sent help sooner? What we do know is this: Five days after the storm, when substantial help finally did arrive, all the world was asking of the richest nation on earth, “What took so long?”
Denise Moore, 42, who was trapped in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, told her cousin Lisa C. Moore that some young men there had guns, but that they were the only help people could count on. “Denise told me the men got food and water for the old people and for the babies, because nobody had eaten in days.
Some people thought they were being sent to the Convention Center to die. Lots of people were dropped off, but nobody was picked up. Cops passed by and sped off; National Guardsmen rolled by with guns. When the police finally yelled, ‘The buses are coming!’ the young men with guns organized the crowd: old people in front, women and children next, men in the back. After arriving at another cousin’s apartment in Baton Rouge, Denise saw the images on TV and couldn’t believe how the media was portraying them. Denise kept repeating: ‘Make sure you tell everybody that they left us there to die. Nobody came. Those young men with guns were protecting us. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have had the little water and food they had found.’ “
Yolanda Stovall, 38, is still reeling from the horrors she saw inside the Convention Center in New Orleans. “I was there from Thursday to Monday with no food, no water, no restroom, no medicine, and dead bodies everywhere. One time I went to use the bathroom and I thought someone was using it. I knocked on the door and got no response. So I opened it and there was a dead body. I saw a woman give birth to twins. The babies were both dead, so someone wrapped them in a sheet and put them under a table. I still see dead bodies in my sleep.”
Father Ray, a priest from Corpus Christi Catholic Church in New Orleans, was evacuated from his home after the floodwater reached 20 feet. He waited with others on a highway for the buses that they were told were coming to take them to safety. “I was evacuated from my house Thursday night. They took us to the highway and told us a bus was coming to get us. There were hundreds of people there, elderly folks, mothers with children. At first we were standing like you would at a bus stop. And then a half hour went by, then an hour, and then it was days. I only hope that when the story fades on CNN, we still remember what happened here.”
To read the entire article, “Voices From the Gulf Coast,” pick up the November issue of ESSENCE. For updates on the aftermath of the hurricane and flood, check regularly on Essence.com