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

Scott E. Delacroix, Jr., MD

In This Article

Friday Day

Return to New Orleans Causeway and I-10 still going stronger than ever. It has ballooned to approximately 5000. Entire families still sitting under the overpasses. No transportation at all. No FEMA. Parked my car and saw the FEMA official. "Y'all are back finally" was my comment. "Not officially," he said. "We are here to collect the bodies." What? His comment was that he was not officially on the ground and that they were there only to collect bodies -- not for other support. No transportation coordination. Great, I thought -- thank you FEMA! Arkansas State Police had arrived and were assisting the Louisiana State Police. Evacuees were behind barricades like cattle. Walking back to my car, we spoke with a 3-man SWAT team from Arkansas. "Who's in control?" they asked me. At this time, when people would ask me that, I would laugh and say, "You are." Obviously, no one was in control. I pointed some areas out on the map where I knew of people stranded and asked them whether they had heard of anything about the evacuation of Charity Hospital. They had not. Nick and I left the area and went about 2 miles south to Airline Highway. Mentally, we needed to see something other than poor, indigent people herded like cattle under an interstate. How could this be happening in my city, in the greatest country on Earth? I was jaded at this point -- 4 days now and no FEMA presence on the ground.

We rode in our car down to Airline Highway. There were a few boats sitting in the water, 1 Jefferson Parish police officer, a federal court judge, and a man named Pat with a shotgun. They said that there were still people in the area around Xavier University. We loaded up to the boat with a few medical supplies, the shotgun, 2 handguns, myself, Nick the EMT, Pat, and another gentleman whose name I cannot recall. We drove down Airline Highway, filled with 4-6 ft of water, in a 20-ft boat. Bodies floating and caught up on fences -- stinking for they had been baking for days now in the hot sun. We entered a neighborhood off Airline Highway and crossed from Metairie into the City of New Orleans. We were in the Carrolton Avenue area. A house was burning 2 blocks from our position.

A dead body was lying on dry ground in the middle of the intersection. We ran our boat aground on Carrolton Avenue as a boat overflowing with 12-15 people approached. Tense situation with guns drawn. We were unsure of their intentions. Pat had heard of an earlier rescue boat being hijacked. After speaking with them (from a distance), we then took some of their passengers on our boat. We again navigated throughout the neighborhood to bring these persons to dry land. Every other block there was a "floater" -- usually a dead elderly man or woman floating in a front yard. You could tell because you could smell the bodies a block away (Figures 2 and 3). There were people who did not want to leave and refused to get into our boat. After a few hours of this, we made it back down Airline Highway with the 15 persons, and Nick and I went back to the triage area at Causeway and I-10. Still no FEMA.

Unfortunate, elderly gentleman floating after his death near Airline Highway.

Another unfortunate death. At first we thought that he was alive, but after running aground near his resting place on Carrolton Avenue, we realized that he was dead.

Hell on earth is how my first patient back at Causeway and I-10 described the situation. "My family and I have been here since Wednesday." She went on to describe her 6 kids and her elderly mother. "Please let us come sit over here in the medical area." That was sad and tells of the conditions that the general population was in. For a woman to beg to come sit among dying persons and in excrement of patients left for days. I started recruiting families with children to sit on the I-10 out from the mud puddle from the side of the Interstate where the general population was sitting. They were not going to make it onto a bus as a family anyway. I was still hoping for more transportation. Where is FEMA?


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