In the Wake of Katrina: A Surgeon's First-Hand Report of the New Orleans Tragedy

Scott E. Delacroix, Jr., MD

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In This Article

Late Thursday Night/Friday Morning (About 1:00 am)

In my old Toyota 4Runner, we headed to the airport to see what FEMA had set up, considering that they had abandoned us. We arrived and saw Austin City EMS and their trucks. Spoke with them, and they said they were going to find a place to sleep and head back into the city and set up on their own tomorrow (Friday). I walked into the second floor of the airport and then down to the first floor. There were patients laying everywhere. I saw a lot of the same patients who had spent 2 days on I-10 now sitting and lying all over the first-floor baggage claim and outside on the cement drop-off area. A man lay in the corner with bilateral chest tubes and no medical care. I felt horrible that this was where I had sent my patients. This was not the better place I had promised them that they were going. Went through security back on the second floor and saw a man that was helping at Causeway and I-10 the previous day. Why did FEMA leave us? I was told "off-the-record" that the official statement would be this:

When city planners (Dr. Maestri) had discussed this doomsday scenario in New Orleans, FEMA officials had told them that the city would have to hold out for 48 hours; then the Feds would be on the ground to provide support. The excuse for taking so long was going to be that the hurricane hit on Monday, but because of the 17th Street canal break which happened Tuesday night-Wednesday morning, this would be classified as an evolving disaster. Not until the lake equilibrated with the water in the city (hence not until the city was 80% underwater) and the water stopped rising did FEMA consider to be on the clock. This did not happen until early Thursday morning.

My reaction was less than doctorly. After a few expletives and expressing my frustration with the whole situation, including now the deplorable conditions on the first floor at the airport, Nick and I left. We were told to check in at EOC in Baton Rouge tomorrow.

Drove to Baton Rouge to get some sleep.

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