The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven

Christ. It keeps getting worse. If this account is reliable – it’s hair-raising.

Two paramedics, in New Orleans for a convention of emergency medical people, stuck in a hotel that ran out of food and water and on the fourth day, turned them out and locked the doors.

As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City’s primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City’s only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in.

Oh. Okay. So they along with a lot of other refugees from hotels decided to pitch a camp outside the police station. The police were not pleased, and told the campers to go to the bridge over the river, where there were buses lined up waiting to evacuate people. Hurrah – so off they went. They passed the convention center, where a lot of people asked where they were going, and, upon being told, joined the march to escape.

Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm. As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads.

Well now – that’s what I call rescue.

As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander’s assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move. We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans…All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot. Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle.

Is this common knowledge? That the bridge was actually blocked? By law-enforcement people firing guns? Is it true? I know at one point on Friday the mayor wanted to get everyone at the convention center to walk out via that bridge – and that that wasn’t possible for everyone because it is two or three miles and there is a steep climb to get up to it, so older, sicker, weaker, and disabled people and the people who stayed with them wouldn’t be able to. But nothing was said about people with guns blocking the way! Christ almighty.

Things don’t get better, either.

Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, “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 next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team…We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op.

Then they have what Barbara Bush thinks must be such a thrill for all those ‘underprivileged’ people – they make it to paradisical Texas. Where ‘the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued.’ I can’t stand to quote any more of it, it’s too sickening.

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