Saturday, September 24, 2005

First-Hand Account of Katrina

This is Charmaine Neville. Click here to watch her fascinating first-hand account of what really happened down in Louisiana. Read below for my transcript of the interview. (Source: WABF local television from Louisiana.)

Transcript of the interview with Charmaine Neville, a hurricane Katrina survivor from New Orleans. In the video, a small white priest has his hands, at arm-length, on her shoulders as she tells her story. He asks her a few brief questions in the middle of the interview and at the end consoles her, but it’s mostly unintelligible what he says.

“I was in my house when everything first started. I was in the house. Yes, I live by the [unintelligible] in the 9th ward of New Orleans. When…when…when…when the…when the hurricane came, it blew all the left side of my house [unintelligible] and the water was coming in my house in torrents. I had my neighbor – an elderly man who’s my neighbor – and myself in the house and with our dogs and cats and we were trying to stay out of the water. But the water was coming in too fast. So we ended up having to leave the house.

"We left the house and we went up on a roof of a school. I took a crowbar and I burst the door open on a roof of the school to help people, to get them up onto the roof of the school. Later on we found a flatboat and we went around in the neighborhood in a flatboat, getting people out of their houses and bringing them to the school. We found all the food that we could and we cooked and we fed people. But then, things started getting really bad. By the second day, the people that were there, that we were feeding and everything, we had no more food, no water – we had nothing. And other people were coming into our neighborhood.

"We were watching the helicopters go across the bridge and airlift other people out but they would hover over us and tell us “hi” [she makes a smirk] and that would be all. They wouldn’t drop us any food, any water, nothing. Alligators were eating people. They had all kinds of stuff in the water. They had babies floating in the water. We had to walk over hundreds of bodies of dead people – people that we tried to save from the hospices, from the hospitals and from the old folks’ homes. I tried to get the police to help us but I realized we rescued a lot of police officers from the flatboat in the 5th district police station. The boat – the guy who was driving the boat, he rescued a lot of them and brought them places where they would be safe.

"We understood that the police couldn’t help us but we couldn’t understand why the National Guard and them wouldn’t help us because we kept seeing them but they never would stop and help us. Finally, it got to be too much. I just took all of the people that I could. I had two old women in wheelchairs but no legs that I rolled them from down there at the 9th ward to the French Quarter and I went back and I got more people. There were groups of us you know. There was about 24 of us and we kept going back and forth and rescuing whoever we could get and bringing them to the French quarter since we heard there was phones in the French quarters and that there wasn’t any water. And they were right, there was phones, but we couldn’t get through.

"I found some police officers. I told them that a lot of us women had been raped down there by guys who had come [unintelligible] from the neighborhood where we were, that were helping us to save people [starts crying]. But other men, they came and they started raping women. And they started killing. And I don’t know who these people were. I’m not going to tell you I know who they were because I don’t.

"But what I want people to understand is that if we had not been left down there like the animals that they were treating us like, all of those things wouldn’t have happened. People are trying to say that we stayed in that city because we wanted to be rioted and we wanted to be this and what – we didn’t have the resources to get out. We had no way to leave. When they gave their evacuation notices order, if we coulda left, we woulda left.

"There are still thousands and thousands of people trapped in their homes down in the…down in the downtown area. When we finally did get to [priest asks: “downtown or in the 9th ward?”] – in the 9th ward…in the 9th ward – and not just in my neighborhood but in other neighborhoods in the 9th ward, there are a lot of people who are still trapped down there. Old people, young people, babies, pregnant women. I mean, nobody’s helping them.

"And I want people to realize that we did not stay in the city so we could steal and loot and…and commit crimes. A lot of those young men lost their minds because the helicopters would fly over us and they wouldn’t stop. We’d do S.O.S. on the flashlights, we’d do everything. And it came to a point, it really did come to a point where these young men were so frustrated that they did start shooting. They weren’t trying to hit the helicopters. They figured, maybe they weren’t seeing, maybe if they hear this gunfire they will stop then. But that didn’t help us. Nothing helped us.

"Finally, I got to Canal Street with all of my people that I had saved from back there – it was a whole group of us. I – I don’t want them arresting nobody else – I broke the window in an RTA bus, I never learned how to drive a bus in my life. I got in that bus. I loaded all those people in their wheelchairs and then everything else into that bus [cries again] and we drove, and we drove, and we drove and millions of people were trying to get me to help them to get on the bus [unintelligible] [starts crying]…willpower to do…[crying]."

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