“We Watched Everything Wash Away” Part 2: Hurricane Katrina

EPISODE 9     (27:49)

 

The Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, August 31, 2005

Almost everyone in Louisiana has a story to tell about a hurricane.  Be it Audrey or Betsy, Andrew or Katrina, Rita or Gustav.  In the podcast we did last year to celebrate the end of hurricane season, “We Watched Everything Wash Away, Part 1,” we focused on some of Louisiana’s historic storms and floods.  We played excerpts from individuals who survived the 1927 Flood, Hurricane Audrey, and Hurricane Betsy.

Today, to mark the five year anniversary of Katrina, we’ll continue where Part 1 left off.  We’ll hear from Gwen Ridgley and George Miller, whose actions in Katrina were influenced by stories and experiences from Hurricane Betsy.  Dr. Frank Minyard, coroner in New Orleans at the time of the hurricane, explains how he walked, waded, and swam through flood waters to get back into the city, and  later evacuated to Saint Gabriel to perform autopsies on each dead body from the storm.  Angel Aucoin, a flight nurse at Memorial Medical Center, details her harrowing journey to evacuate patients to safety from the hospital to the Convention Center to West Jefferson.  Cathy Chauvin tells us about the evacuation of River Bend Nursing Home to Kentwood, Louisiana, and how, when none of the contracted suppliers could get through, three trucks of civilians from “some northern state” made it there with essential supplies.  Vicky Webb “got light as a feather” when she and her dog, Max, were rescued from flood waters by boat, and when strangers offered to drive her to New Roads when she had no other transportation. Barbara Terance explains why she didn’t leave New Orleans for the hurricane, and how after being rescued by boat and later evacuated by bus out of the city, she and her mother got off the bus at a  gas station in Port Allen and got the last room at the Days Inn. Sharon Normand tells how she and her husband returned to the city one week later and slept on hospital gurneys, and how community members bonded in City Hall.

These interviews are the result of partnerships between the Center and a New Orleans-based project and a New Roads, Louisiana-based project.  To learn more about these projects, please visit the following websites:

“Voices in the Storm”  Julien Poydras Museum Arts Council in Pointe Coupee Parish

http://www.lsu.edu/highlights/2007/06/katrina.html

“Floodwall: A Tribute to New Orleans in the Aftermath of Katrina” headed by Jana Napoli

http://www.floodwall.org/index.php

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AUDIO EXCERPT TRANSCRIPTIONS AND CITATIONS

CATHY CHAUVIN is the key excerpt.   *For full transcription, see below.

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Gwen Ridgley

GWEN RIDGLEY: And at that point, I could hear Galaxy lapping water. The storm Betsy that passed in, was it 1965 or 1966—quite a few people died in that storm, because they went to the attic and they didn’t have the proper tools to get out through the roof. We just used to talk about that all the time. But now we’re confronted with this storm. So we did pull down the stairs to the attic. And I told Pat, I said, “I’m not going in the attic.” And we just laughed. And just at that point, the water hit the front door.  And her air handler is in the hallway, right there as you’re going up. And in there is where she kept her little miscellaneous tools. Her saw, the hammer that we needed. And we got those things, and up in the attic we went!

Ridgley, Gwendolyn, interview by Myrna Matherne, audio recording, 2007, 4700.1955. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

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George Miller

GEORGE MILLER: And both my wife and I, we experienced Betsy in 1965. I was nineteen. In fact, I was staying at my grandmother’s house. And that’s when the Corps of Engineers actually did blow up the levee for Betsy. And it flooded the Lower Ninth Ward. They didn’t really, like I said, I guess, blow it up. They actually thought they could blow the levee and control the water with a barge. The barge went through the levee. And I walked in water up to my chest and promised that if I ever had the opportunity to get out of there alive, I would never, ever get caught in a storm. And my wife and I were talking the other day. And I guess in my forty-something years of working, we figured that we evacuated something like thirty-five times. Sometimes you might evacuate two or three times a season. So when you say thirty-five times, it sounds like a lot. But if you do it every three or four times a year. And the reason why, because both of us got caught in Betsy. So we knew exactly what we were up against.

Miller, George, interview by Blanche Jewell, audio recording, 2007, 4700.1954. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Dr. Frank Minyard

FRANK MINYARDWhen the hurricane hit, I was at my farm in Folsom.  So I came in here Tuesday. I didn’t know about the flood. We had no communication. So I drove in, I tried to go down Tulane Avenue in the flood. I tried to go down Canal Street, and it was all flooded. I had to get out of the car and wade and walk and swim and everything. But it just dawned on me then that this was a disaster beyond my ability to do anything.

So we had about ten people in the office. Little did I know we would be trapped there for five days. But, so, as far as preparation, I had preparations in my own mind, but nothing of the magnitude of what happened. So I knew we couldn’t help. We were held up. We couldn’t get out of the office. Once I got there in a boat, I couldn’t get out until Friday.

A thousand of these people are my people, from New Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines, and I am treating them the same way I treat them when I am in my office.  We find out exactly what caused them to die.  And as long as people died at the hands of the good Lord then I am happy. But if they died at someone else’s hands then we are not happy. We are not just going to scuff them off because we don’t like the living conditions or we don’t like the working conditions, for sure, but we are going to treat them like they are my people, my friends. 

Minyard, Frank, interview by Angie Juban, audio recording, 2007, 4700.1956. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Angel Aucoin

ANGEL AUCOIN: And the emergency room was crazily busy [prior to the storm]. People were just dropping people off. No names, no ID. Just little old people were just getting dropped off on the ER ramps.  It was just, you couldn’t keep up with them. And we were literally full to capacity. The waiting room, standing room only.  We’re going to get these people out of here. So we’re going to take the sickest first. So that was our ICU patients, moms and babies.  And [after the storm] we just started flying people out. I mean, just five at a time, six at a time. We would just load people into these helicopters.

So we go up to this vehicle.  And I say, “I have a thousand dollars, and I’m going to give it all to you if you get me out of here.” And he said, “No,” he said, “I’m working on a job.” I said, “I bet you a thousand bucks is more than you’re going to make tonight.” And I pulled it out of my backpack.

There was nobody on the highway. See, I didn’t know that everybody was shut off from coming in at this time, still. So we finally get to West Jeff , and I mean, we jump out of that truck, people are jumping out of that truck, seventeen of us. And they draw their guns on us. And they’re like, “Get back in the truck!” And I’m like, “No! We’re here. I work here.” I’m saying, “I work here,” meaning “I worked here.”  I didn’t recognize any of the little people that were outside in the military. I said, “Where’s Connie? Is Connie here? Is Connie here?” And before I could finish what I’m trying to explain who I was, here comes this paramedic. Good looking guy, bald head. And it was Abe. I’m like, “Abe!” You know, because you knew the paramedics when you did this for so many years. And he’s like, “Angel?” And I’m like, “It’s me! Help us! Help us!” And I’m like, “Don’t kick us out.” I said, “Just give me this piece of grass and a phone, and I’ll be out of your way.”

Aucoin, Angel, interview by Mary Price, audio recording, 2007, 4700.1949. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Cathy and Daryl Chauvin

*CATHY CHAUVIN:   I was working at Riverbend Nursing and Rehab Center. I actually evacuated with my nursing home. So we took eighty-five geriatrics to Kentwood and housed them in a gymnasium.

We had evacuated before, so it wasn’t new to us. We took all of our residents’ mattresses with us. We took enough clothing for three days for each resident. And of course we took just huge quantities of things like diapers and medical supplies. We took all of our medicine carts and just put them in the back of the vehicles. Then we loaded three buses of our residents. And that was tough, because most of them couldn’t get on the bus.

And the employees didn’t really stay in the gymnasium. Some of our CNAs stayed in an upstairs area with their children. But it was very tight quarters up there, and we didn’t want to impede on the residents, because they didn’t have a whole lot of space. So most of us slept in our automobiles at night, and then we’d get up.  But we were very fortunate. We had a couple of guys who evacuated with us. The maintenance man, his brother. And they managed to make a makeshift shower, so we were able to keep the residents clean. We really met all of their needs. And laughed, some crew from Red Cross came though, and they, I guess, panicked, seeing that we had all these elderly. And the first thing they said was that they would be more than happy to bring us food. Well, we were providing not only three meals a day, but three hot meals a day. They were getting balanced meals that were hot. So we just kind of got a kick out of that, because we were managing.

We kind of started to panic. I’m trying to think, it must have been like Thursday of the first week. We had all these contracts with people, but nobody could get through.  And I’ll never forget, out of nowhere, these three trucks showed up. It was people from some northern state, I don’t even know where they were from, who just decided to get on the road. And they packaged ice, and just all the basics that they really needed. Ice. I never though ice would be such a thrill. But we were so happy to get ice. And they had propane, because we needed propane to run the things for the kitchen, you know. And they showed up with all of that.  Don’t ever think that one person can’t make a difference in this world.

Chauvin, Daryl and Cathy, interview by Blanche Jewell, audio recording, 2007, 4700.1950. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Vicky Webb

VICKY WEBB: So he showed us where to go to get in the boat. So I asked, I asked him what I had to do with my dog. He said, “Don’t worry about it,” he said, “You’re going to be able to take your dog.” Oh my God, I got as light as a feather, you know. Then the next thing, “How Max going to put up? How he’s going to react?” But Max love the water, so I think that’s one thing that helped, you see? So I said, “Where Max going to be?” He put me seated. He said, “You sit right here,” he said, “and Max going to sit right there, right next to your feet.” I said, “Well God, God, please help me, please help me,” that he wouldn’t start pulling and barking and all of that. I got seated, Max came in like a human being. He sit by my feet. He didn’t try to bark. He didn’t try to move. And that’s when we went to Tulane.

And after we knew that the buses couldn’t take us to New Roads, just out of the blue sky the guardian angel, the lady called me by name and she said, “Vicky, come over.”  And when I went there she said, “I overheard that no bus would be going to New Roads.” So she said, “My mother said that she would take you and your sister to New Roads.”  Oh my God.  I got as light-I was already light-I got lighter than a feather, you know.  I was so happy.  I didn’t believe it was real.  I just couldn’t believe it was real.  Just out of the deep blue.  They didn’t know us, you know.  And I said, “Oh yes!” I said how much we would love that and appreciate it.  

Webb, Victoria Davis, interview by Jennifer Abraham, audio recording, 2007, 4700.1957.Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

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BARBARA TERANCE: My mother never did leave during a hurricane. We’d figure we going to ride it out and my sister was going to go stay with Button in Gentilly  because we have a duplex in Gentilly and we thought we were safe that morning and my mother and I were eating breakfast and all of a sudden we heard like this rushing sound. We were like “What in the world is this?” When we looked down the water was bubbling up through the floor. When we ran to the door, it was a river. So I called 911 and they told us to try to get on the roof. And I called my sister, and all she could say was that the water had had risen real high over there and the phone went dead and that was it. And that was the only communication we had.

That was Monday morning. And we didn’t get out until that Wednesday morning. I think either that Wednesday or Thursday morning because I would come sit out on the porch and we thought we were the only ones in the neighborhood. And that duplex over there, there were people that we saw. We were hollering to them across the way and they told us to come over but neither one of us could swim and we didn’t have a boat. And so we were set outside and we were putting my mom in the wheel chair and sitting on the porch, and a boat stopped by, the National Guard, and they picked us up and they brought us right down to the bridge off of Gentilly Boulevard and dropped us on the bridge on the Interstate and we had to wait there for a bus, a school bus.

But they didn’t tell you where you were going. They put you on a bus but, they don’t tell you they are bringing you to a staging area. And somebody comes and whispers to the bus driver in his ear and he takes off and when he’s way out there I ask him, “where are we going?” And he says “I can tell you right now I’m bringing y’all to the Cajundome in Lafayette, but y’all don’t want to go there. So I asked him if we could make a pit stop. Well, people didn’t want to stop and I said “Well we need to make a stop”. We had crossed the bridge over to Port Allen. Well, Baton Rouge is right across. So when I knew we had crossed over from Baton Rouge to Port Allen, he stopped at this gas station, and I dragged my mother off the bus with her walker because we couldn’t bring her wheel chair. And we got to walk to Days Inn and she said she could make it. We sat in the lobby and gave us coffee because she didn’t have any rooms. And then hours later she came and said that they had a room. We were like, “Thank you Jesus!” 

Terance, Barbara, interview by Tatiana Clay, audio recording, 2007, 4700.1962. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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SHARON NORMAND: I came back the Monday after the storm. One week after the storm I came back, which is very early by most people’s return date. My husband is, you know, a physician at EJ [East Jefferson General Hospital], so he had to come back because the people that were there had been there for a whole week under horrible conditions and had you know other things that they had to do. So we came back and stayed at EJ for a few days on the gurney [laughs]. That was our bed. We shared a gurney.

There were no elderly or children in the city when we came back. It was very strange.  Every time I go to City Hall, the staff there is reduced to like a minimum when they need it more than ever. They’re working like with a skeleton crew with like this primitive system of musical chairs you know. If one person goes in, everybody stands up and moves one chair over.  I’m not expecting any high tech system but it’s like super primitive. But every time we go, I take my mom, we actually always have a good time because we’re with like forty, you know, people in the same boat and people have their pictures with them because it’s required for almost everything. And everyone is showing each other their pictures of how nice, you know, or they’re showing the ugly pictures and telling each other how nice their house used to be. It’s very therapeutic and it’s very interesting because you are having to move chairs and it’s like you get a new mix of people every twenty minutes. It’s been hilarious, you know, and by the time you leave, you are going to wish people well and it’s been kind of fun–not the bureaucracy itself, but the people going through it too. It’s been very bonding. It’s hard to explain. To see my mom talking, with the people like that, it’s just precious. She’s encouraging them. It’s you know, just very cute.

Normand, Sharon, interview by Tatiana Clay, audio recording, 2006, 4700.1964.Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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IMAGES

The Louisiana Superdome, courtesy of  NOAA

All portraits courtesy of David Breidenbach

 

MUSIC 

King, Freddie, interview by Tatiana Clay and Eric Julien, audio recording, 2008, 4700.1921.  Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

This podcast is copyrighted by LSU Libraries Special Collections.

For a full transcript of the podcast, please contact Jennifer Abraham at jabrah1@lsu.edu.

 

<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–> <!–[endif]–>The Julien Poydras Museum Arts Council in Pointe Coupee Parish
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One comment on ““We Watched Everything Wash Away” Part 2: Hurricane Katrina
  1. Nearly the very same thing happened to my family and I in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy made landfall near Cocodrie, roared up the mouth of the Mississippi river and struck mid-city New Orleans. Both the Seventeenth St. and the Industrial Canal levees failed on both sides, plus the storm surge rolled in through the Intra-Coastal Canal. There were boats, helicopters, National Guard, Wildlife and Fisheries personnel, rescuing people stranded on their roof-tops in areas to east of Esplanade Avenue. Approaching my fiftieth birthday in December, I can still remember the hours upon hours of wind howling up and down from the Esplanade wharves to City Park.

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