Looking back four years ago to when Hurricane Katrina's waters poured into New Orleans, I have this constant image of my first of many rescues. This first rescue was the worst. It was just hours after the flood waters began to rise when I heard the loud, repeated barking of a large dog at my front steps. My house at the time abutted the 17th Street canal -- the canal that failed and flooded so much of New Orleans.
When I approached the door, I saw a large black dog barking profusely. I realized something was wrong. I grabbed two brooms and jumped in a commandeered small boat (pirogue) and paddled to my friend Web Deadman's house. I knew the dog belonged to Web and that something must have been wrong.
When I got there, I realized Web was in bad shape -- in the water and having a hard time breathing. I was able to pull him up on his lawn and out of the water but was unsuccessful in keeping him breathing. He passed away. All I could do was to go back to my house. I brought a sheet and wrapped his body in it after I propped him up on a pillow from his couch and wrote his name and my information on his arm for identification purposes. I sprinkled Web with holy water from my church and blessed salt and prayed for his soul.
Sadly, Web would remain on his front lawn for several days until I could get a body bag from Acadian Ambulance and place him in it and get the ambulance to take him to the makeshift morgue in St. Gabriel. It would take me over a week to make contact with Web's relatives and let them know that my first rescue was a failure.
What could I have done differently to have saved Web? I beat myself up hard often and can only pray for his soul. I keep telling myself that I did everything I could, even though it was not enough. I will always remember that dark, eerie, quiet night, when Web's dog was barking non-stop and will continue to question why. Why did he have to die? Why couldn't I have saved him?
What a powerful and very personal story. You did your absolute best and it just wasn't enough. But, what happened to your neighbor didn't put an end to your attempts to rescue others. So you obviously didn't climb into bed and pull the blankets over your head. What happened next? Was your own home underwater?
While I was saddened and
depressed, it made me more determined to rescue as many people as I
could. At daylight the next morning, I went to Ms. Dru, my 90+ year old
neighbor and demanded she leave. She said she would stay. I had to tell
her that Web had passed away and that I was insisting she leave. She
finally agreed. I helped her in a boat that I was able to "borrow"
and floated her out of the neighborhood on a route that wouldn't allow her to
see Web laid out on his front lawn.
The boat didn't have a plug in the drain so Ms. Dru had to bail the water out with a small bucket while I pulled her to a staging area. Then, I was able to get her on the back of a dump truck and on her long long journey to Lafayette. I was able to make contact with her niece and nephew in Oklahoma and they immediately started driving down to pick Ms. Dru up and bring her to their home, where Ms. Dru started volunteering, just like she did all her life in New Orleans. One of the best days of my life was seeing Ms. Dru coming down our street months later -- she had returned! The neighborhood would never be the same without Ms. Dru!
I continued rescuing every day
in my neighborhood until I was certain that I had every neighbor out safely.
I have one more very challenging rescue that still gives me chills. It
was Wednesday after Katrina. I was at the bridge on Metairie Road over
the 17th Street Canal when a thin, young woman walked up to
me. She asked if I was in charge. I explained to her that no one
was in charge.
She then started crying and asked me to help her by rescuing her
baby. She went on to tell me that her 28 day old son was left in her
home on Hamilton Street in the Hollygrove area of New Orleans. She
explained to me that she couldn't swim and that she didn't know
what to do, as her mom didn't even know she had a baby.
enough to get a boat owner to take me on his airboat to the house.
stayed on the boat, armed to protect it, I went through the now dark
flooded home to find the baby boy in a closet on a pillow, wearing only
diaper. He was not in the flood waters yet. I grabbed him and had
to dunk him in the water to get him out of the house as the water was
so high. I washed his face off with water from my water bottle and we
rushed this tiny baby to an ambulance and with the grace of God, the
taken to a hospital in Baton Rouge. I was unable to find the mother of
for over four weeks.
When I found her, she hugged me and we both sat there and cried and cried and cried. The baby boy made it, thanks to the help of the generous boat owner who risked his life to safe this baby boy. I say risked because the gunfire on Wednesday was horrible and his boat was a hot commodity. We were both determined to save the boy. Especially after losing my neighbor Web, I wanted to save this 28 day old boy!