Guardian Unlimited: Newsblog September 8, 2005
'They lied to us to get us to move'
By Ros Taylor
A deeply shocking account by two paramedics stranded in New Orleans alleges that police lied to residents, saying buses were waiting to evacuate them - and then fired shots above their heads when they tried to reach them.
It's well worth reading in full, and gives the lie to claims that officials did all they could to help people escape the stricken city.
Larrie Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky were attending a conference in the city when the hurricane struck. Unable to find transport, they pooled money with around 500 people staying in the same hotel and paid $25,000 for buses to come and pick them up. None arrived.
"We later learned that the minute they arrived at the city limits, they were commandeered by the military," the account says.
They then tried to get into the Superdome and the conference centre, but were told conditions were too atrocious for anyone else to enter.
"We asked: 'If we can't go to the only two shelters in the city, what is our alternative?' The guards told us that was our problem."
The group decided to set up camp outside the police command centre in an effort to draw attention to their plight.
"In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge, where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the city. The crowd cheered and began to move."
As they approached the bridge, however, they were met by a line of armed sheriffs.
"Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. … [They] informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move."
Around 80 or 90 of the group used rubbish bags and litter to set up a temporary camp on the freeway.
"Just as dusk set in, a Gretna sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces and screamed: 'Get off the fucking freeway'.
A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water."
The group scattered. After hours of walking, they were eventually picked up by a cargo plane and evacuated to Texas.
In another damning article, the White House's protests that the effects of Hurricane Katrina could not have been foreseen are undermined by GlobalSecurity.org, which says 50 federal, state and volunteer organisations held a five-day exercise in July 2004, simulating "Hurricane Pam", a storm surge that broke through New Orleans levees.
"A second Hurricane Pam exercise was planned for the summer of 2005, but did not take place, apparently due to a lack of funding," the report says.
© Copyright 2005, Guardian Newspapers Limited