[R-G] Eyewitness report from Answer team in New Orleans
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Sep 6 07:32:24 MDT 2005
Eyewitness Report from New Orleans
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September 6, 2005
On Saturday September 3, award-winning filmmaker Gloria La Riva,
internationally-acclaimed photographer Bill Hackwell and A.N.S.W.E.R.
Youth & Student Coordinator Caneisha Mills, a senior at Howard
University, arrived in New Orleans.
The following is an eyewitness report of the crisis in the area written
on Sunday, September 4.
While 80 percent of New Orleans was submerged in water, Algiers is one
of the few districts that have been spared the worst of the flooding as
it sits higher than most of the city. An historic district established
in 1719, Algiers is on the west bank of the Mississippi river, across
from the French Quarter. Probably 15% of the residents still remain
behind, most of them determined to stay in their homes. The majority of
homes are still intact, although many have suffered damage. While their
houses survived, the peoples' chance of survival seemed very bleak since
there was no electricity or disbursement of food, water or other
We arrived in the Algiers district of New Orleans after getting through
seven checkpoints. We quickly learned that the current media reports
that relief and aid have finally arrived to New Orleans are as false as
all earlier reports that also had as their origin government sources.
The people in the Algiers area have received nothing or next to nothing
since the Hurricane struck. Left without any way to escape, people are
now struggling to survive in the aftermath. Now they are being told
they have to abandon their homes, even though they want to stay. They
are not being given what they need to stay and survive, and are being
told they must leave.
"Imagine being in a city, poor, without any money and all of a sudden
you are told to leave and you don't even have a bicycle," stated Malik
Rahim, a community activist in the Algiers section of New Orleans. "90%
of the people don't even have cars."
One woman told us it was not possible for her to evacuate. She said, "I
can't leave. I don't have a car and I have nine children." She and her
husband are getting by with the help of several men in the community who
are joining resources to provide for their neighbors.
The government claims that people can get water, but residents have to
travel at least 17 miles to the nearest water and ice distribution
center. Only one case of water is available per family. Countless people
have no way to drive.
While the government is touting the deployment of personnel to the area,
there is a huge military and police presence but none of it to provide
services. All of them, north and south of the river, are stationed in
front of private buildings and abandoned stores, protecting private
The goods that the government personnel are bringing in are for their
own forces. They are not distributing provisions to people who
desperately need them.
Not one of them has delivered water to Algiers or gone to the houses to
see if sick or elderly people need help. There is no door-to-door survey
to see who was injured.
The overwhelming majority of people who have stayed in Algiers are Black
but some are white. One man in his late 50s in Algiers pointed across
the street to a 10-acre grassy lot. It looks like a beautiful park. He
said, "I had my daughter call FEMA. I told them I want to donate this
land to the people in need. They could set up 100 tractor trailers with
aid, they could set up tents. No one has ever called me back." He is
Although some of the residents do express fear of burglaries into
houses, acts of heroism, sacrifice and solidarity are evident
Steve, a white man in his 40s, knocks on Malik's front door. He tells
us, "Malik has kept this neighborhood together. We don't know what we'd
do without his help." He has come in because he needs to use the phone.
Malik's street is the only one with phones still working.
Malik and three of his friends have been delivering food, water and ice
to those in need three times a day, searching everywhere for goods.
There is a strong suspicion among the residents that the government has
another agenda in the deliberately forced removal of people from
Algiers, even though this particular neighborhood is not under water and
Algiers is full of quaint, historic French-style houses, with a high
real estate value, and the residents know that the government and real
estate forces would like to lay their hands on their neighborhood to
push forward gentrification which is already evident.
Downtown New Orleans
Although entry is prohibited into downtown New Orleans north and east of
the Mississippi, we were able to get in on Sunday.
The Superdome is still surrounded by water and all types of military
helicopters, army trucks, etc are coming in and out of the area;
however, most of the people who survived have already left. On US-90,
the only road out of New Orleans, convoys of National Guard troops are
pouring into the city, too late for many. According to an emergency
issue of The Times-Picayune, 16,000 National Guard troops now occupy the
Thousands of troops are in New Orleans but water is premium and still
not available. One African American couple we met looking for water told
us, "We have four kids. When they told us to leave before the hurricane
we couldn't. We have no car and no money."
Undoubtedly it is similar in the other states that got the direct hit of
Katrina, Mississippi and Alabama. On the radio we hear reports of
completely demolished towns. What differentiates the rest of the Gulf
coast from New Orleans is that the many thousands of deaths in New
Orleans were absolutely preventable and occurred after the hurricane.
On everyone's lips is the cutting in federal funds to strengthen the
levees of Lake Pontchartrain. Two reporters from New York tell us they
just came from the New Orleans airport emergency hospital that was set
up. We made our way to the airport.
New Orleans International Airport
The New Orleans International Airport was converted into an emergency
hospital center. Thousands of people were evacuated there to get
supplies and food, and for transportation that would take them out of
the city. Many people arrived with only one or two bags, their entire
lives reduced to a few belongings.
Some people did not want to leave their homes, but say they were forced
to do so. For example, one white woman and her husband were forced to
evacuate. She said, "The military told us that we had one minute to
evacuate. We said that we weren't ready and he said they can't force us
to leave but if we don't leave anybody left would be arrested . but it
was the end of the month. The two of us have been living for a couple of
months on $600 a month and rent is $550. At the end of the month, we
only had $20 and 1/8 of a tank of gas. There was no way we could leave."
When it became apparent that nobody was coming back to pick them up, the
couple walked five miles to the airport to see if they could get help.
Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, doctors, nurses and community
organizations came from as far as San Diego, California and Kentucky to
provide support during the crisis. None of them were dispersed into the
community. When we arrived at the airport on Sunday, September 4, there
were approximately 20 medical people for every one patient while people
in regions such as Algiers and the 9th ward were left to fend for
The majority of people in New Orleans blame the local and national
government for the catastrophe. One young Black man said, "The
government abandoned us . [it's] pre-meditated murder."
Another said, "Why would you [the government] protect a building .
instead of rescuing people that have been without food or water for
three or four days? It seems like that was the plan. . We couldn't
starve them out, the hurricane didn't kill them, it seems planned."
As we drive to Baton Rouge tonight to visit evacuated people, we hear on
local radio that possibly 10,000 people have died in the flooded areas
of New Orleans. Tonight in one announcement, we hear the names of some
of the missing people still being searched for, a 90-year-old woman
named Lisa, a man 102 years old, two women 82 and 85 years old. The
elderly, the most vulnerable, left to their own devices.
Bodies are lying everywhere, and hidden in attics and apartments. The
announcer describes how one body, rotting after days in the sun, was
surrounded by a wall fashioned from fallen bricks by survivors, and
given a provisional burial to give her some dignity. Written on the
sheet covering her is, "Here lies Vera, God Help Us."
At a Red Cross shelter outside of Baton Rouge, we meet Emmanuel, who
can't find his wife and three sons after the floods. His story is
shocking but not unusual. His home is near the 17th Street Canal, where
the Pontchartrain levee broke through.
"I stayed behind to rescue my neighbors while I sent my wife and kids to
dry land," he says. It is difficult for him to relate what happened. He
had a small boat so he went from house to house picking up neighbors.
While doing so, he encountered many bodies in the water.
"My best friend's body was floating by in the water. One mother whose
baby drowned tied her baby to a fence so she could bury him after she
returned." Because troops kept driving by him and others without helping
them, he had to walk 30 miles north until he was picked up.
The people of New Orleans did not have to die; their lives did not have
to be destroyed. This conduct of the government is a crime of the
highest magnitude. There is not a single adjective that is adequate.
Negligence, incompetence, callous disregard while all are true, none are
Those who manage a system that always and everywhere puts the needs of
business and private property ahead of the people, that always find
money to fund wars that benefit the rich of this country rather than
meeting people's needs should be held responsible and accountable. The
real problem however, is not with the managers of the system, but with
the system itself. They call it the free market. It is the economic and
social system of plutocracy, the system of modern capitalism, of, by,
and for the rich that in words declares itself to be of, by and for the
people. The reality, however, can now been seen in the streets of New
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