Voices from the disaster
Compiled by Jenny Brown
September 2005

Gabrielle Benson, 40, has to think for a second. It is five, she says, the number of her family who are unaccounted for. "I don't know where my mom and dad are and I have three kids of mine who are missing." Two other children are with her. Ms Benson is calm about the missing kids. They survived the storm and were with her in the New Orleans Superdome all last week. They got lost in the pandemonium of boarding the buses. Quite likely, they are in a different city by now.
It is the mess with the buses that makes Ms Benson most angry. She and her family had abandoned their home in the projects last Sunday and fled immediately to the Superdome. The stampede for the buses began on Thursday. She described soldiers of the National Guard barking orders - "Make a hole, make a hole, that was their favorite order," she says - and making no effort to keep parents and children together. "They treated us like dirt, like dirt. They wouldn't even help my kids when they got lost. 'Ma'am, you've got to stay behind the barricade' is all they said." The soldiers did at least give them water while they waited - throwing bottles into the crowd. "Just popping people on the head with them."--The Independent (UK) September 4.

At one point, the evacuation was interrupted briefly when school buses rolled up so some 700 guests and employees from the Hyatt Hotel could move to the head of the evacuation line -- much to the amazement of those who had been crammed in the stinking Superdome since Sunday.
"How does this work? They (are) clean, they are dry, they get out ahead of us?" exclaimed Howard Blue, 22, who tried to get in their line. The National Guard blocked him as other guardsmen helped the well-dressed guests with their luggage.
The 700 had been trapped in the hotel, next to the Superdome, but conditions were considerably cleaner, even without running water, than the unsanitary crush inside the dome. ...
National Guard Capt. John Pollard called the decision to move the Hyatt people to the head of the line "very poor." --Mary Foster reporting for the Associated Press, September 3.

"These troops are fresh back from Iraq, well trained, experienced, battle tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets ... They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will"-- Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, giving the official response to reports of looting of everything from food to luxury items, Sept. 1

"This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace... FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans... It's criminal within the confines of the United States that within one hour of the hurricane they weren't force-feeding us. It's like FEMA has never been to a hurricane." –Terry Ebbert, head of New Orleans emergency operations blasting the federal government and FEMA for its slow response.

"I do think the nation would be responding differently if they were white elderly and white babies actually dying on the street and being covered with newspapers and shrouds and being left there."--David Billings, minister and leader in the New Orleans-based anti-racist organization, The People's Institute.

"Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house --he's lost his entire house--there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch." George W. Bush, Friday, Sept. 2

"Perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast - black and white, rich and poor, young and old – deserve far better from their national government." --Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, Saturday, Sept. 3

"There's no FEMA. No Red Cross. No help. People are sick. The water is like toxic gumbo. We're the forgotten little town that got blown away."--Lakeshore, Mississippi resident James Gibson, Thursday, Sept. 1.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."--Barbara Bush (George W. Bush's mother) after touring the Houston Astrodome, which now houses thousands of storm victims.

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job"--George W. Bush to FEMA chief Michael Brown, Friday, Sept. 2

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