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Gerard M. Retired Amtrak Mechanic, Pigeontown 09/14/05

I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1957. I was working for Amtrak railroad until I got shot, disabled in 1989. I had three brothers and two sisters. One of my little brothers is dead. I only have two sisters and two brothers, growing up in New Orleans in the CBD area. I went to elementary school thirty-six, McDonough 36. Then I went to senior high at Booker T. Washington.

I started working for the Pontchartrain hotel at first as an assistant waiter, after school, and then I went to Avondale shipyard in Avondale, Louisiana. They taught me how to weld. And I quit them to go to Amtrak railroad. I worked for them, I think 15 years. When I first started with them I was, like, a track man that put the tracks down. And they sent me to school and I trained to be a mechanic for them. I loved it.

I married twice. My wife is deceased. I have six kids. I love to be a Dad. I love it. Taking care of somebody that can't take care of they self. My youngest kid is three. No I'm sorry -- four, five, and six. My youngest kid's name is just like my mother, Millie. My second kid, youngest kid, is named Gerard. My third kid is Jerome. My name is Gerard Jerome (that's my middle name). And I have another set of kids, Gerard and Jerome again.

AIT: How do you keep everybody straight?

Different ages. And it's not by the same wife, those. My oldest kid is a girl and her name is Natace.

So, I was shot at work, someone robbed me. I still have a bullet in me now. In my stomach. These days I spend my time helping my mother out a lot. She's disabled. She suffer with ah, high blood pressure, diabetes and glaucoma.

AIT: Is your mother here?

She's here now. I'm with her now.

AIT: Are you with other family members as well?

No. I have other family members but I haven't even uh, tried to locate them on the Internet. I've got enough problems keeping up with my mother right now. I'm interested in it, but I'm on the Internet just as well as anybody else so I guess they can contact me and whenever I get any time to contact them I'll try.

AIT: So, you were living in the Carrollton area just recently?

Right off of Spruce and behind the Sewerage and Water Board.

AIT: Were you living there with your mother?

No, my mother have her own house. My mother stays in the Ninth Ward. I live in what they call the 17th ward, Carrollton. Pigeontown.

AIT: Do you think you'll be returning to New Orleans?

Yeah, I sure hope I would. Yeah, I wish I would.

AIT: Would you like to live there again once you're done here?

Yeah, I think I would. I think I would. What really messed me up is that the hurricane did a little something to New Orleans, but the water was the most damaging thing that I didn't think was gonna happen after the hurricane. I don't see how that happened. They got so many rumors. They say some people blowed up the levee to save some people and I don't know. But I know I didn't think -- my sister told me, Hey the water gonna be like 18 feet and I'm like laughing. I done been through a bunch of storms. Bessie and Hilda and Camille and I'm 47 years old. And then this…Ivan even up in Florida, up around Florida, that was okay. But this one here…It shook the house. I was in my little raggly condemned little house where I live now. But I mean, it shook it. But it didn't do the damages that the water did.

I went to get my mother. I went to get my mother out the Ninth Ward. My niece come pick me up from Carrollton. She stays right there in Fountainbleau area and she picked me up and we went to the Ninth Ward to get my mother. My mother didn't want to go. She said, She can't go, she waiting on her check. I told her the mailman wasn't passed. Said it was closed but she still didn't want to go. She is 78 years old.

We had a misunderstanding and she didn't want to leave, and I left. My niece waited and picked her up and brought her to their house. My sister and her, my niece mother, is my mother's daughter and they waited and picked up and brought her by my sister. For the storm, so. So I called on the phone to makes sure she was gone 'cause if not I was just trying to make her think that I wasn't interested in coming back to get for she could hurry up and leave. But my niece picked up, so when I called her to find out that they really did have her, I was satisfied with that.

I went home and brought my little dogs inside. Pittbulls. I got some pittbull dogs. And then I called to find out if they home, and they was home so I thought everything was alright. Okay so the storm went by. It shook the house, blowed a bunch of roofs off and all kinds of stuff. Knocked windows and rain come in. It was scary, just for the storm. And rained on me and all kinds of…

But I survived that. The next day it stopped raining in the daytime, maybe 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock. It was flooded outside. It was floodery out, probably about three and a half feet. So I walked up Claiborne street cause the buses wasn't running to my sister house. That's a good way. That's about three miles really in the water, yeah, in the neutral ground so that's the high point.

So, when I get there to my sister house the water gets higher, like four and a half feet. And when I get there, uh, they tells me 'The water gonna get 12 feet-it's gonna get 15 feet- it's gonna get 18 feet' and I'm saying like 'Oh no'. My mother got like a kinda new vehicle. I got a few vehicles. I got like a flatbed truck that picks up junk cars. I got a racing car I just bought. And I got an old truck just to ride around in.

And so the water went to getting up to the ceiling of a vehicle and I say, "Oh that's about all it gonna get" and I went inside talking to my mother laughing and stuff. The water started rising. And so I say 'Oh, man,' I say. I ask my niece does she have a balloon or something where I could hold on in case the water get too high. I was gonna book it on the neutral ground on Claiborne street the same way I came. And flag down a boat or a helicopter -- because the helicopters was flying all around. So I got uh, what was it? A balloon swimming pool. So I got in the swimming pool and just paddled until I got to Claiborne Street. Once I got to Claiborne Street I was trying to flag down helicopters but they -- they had a lot of helicopters but they was all occupied.

If you stand on top of the house they'll pick you up but if you wasn't on top of the house they weren't going to get you out. I didn't get no response with that. Let's see how many days that was…two days. They saw us. We had flashlights. So, I went back home, back to my sister's house, since I couldn't get no response. I made it back to my sister house. And that night the water getting higher and higher so I did it again. This time the water was so high it was like high as high as that stop sign. You couldn't see the name of the street.

You couldn't see number of houses, and that's the only way you knew where the street was. It was getting to the second story. So I got back in the balloon swimming pool and went back to Claiborne St. But when I got to Claiborne St., where Claiborne street got a hill when you get on the neutral ground, this much of me was still sticking up. [Gestures at his chin.]

I had this balloon thing. Inner tube. I had an inner tube and on top of the swimming pool just in case that the swimming pool turned over. And it was like sewagey water. Stool in it, and oil and gas. I could taste it. And tree branches and, and, and, and containers. Garbage cans. The big dumps, the thing you put ice in, what you sell ice out of, big as a car-they floating. Everything floating. I couldn't get, I couldn't get back. After the helicopters didn't pay me no attention, I couldn't get back.

So, a man passed in a boat. There were people saving people in a boat. In fact, I did save somebody. Yeah. I was on Channel Eight for saving a child -- the first day when I went out, when I was pulling the boat and I couldn't get no response and I went back home with the balloon. I did, somebody was around the neutral ground and I went across the street and pulled them to the neutral ground, a man and a woman. They had me on TV with that. News 8 in New Orleans.

So, the second day I couldn't get no response and I couldn't get back, and my mama and my sister and everybody there with all that water. They got the flashlights shining at the helicopters making S.O.S. signs, and I had to get back. So a man was passing, an old man in a boat. He had run out of gas. There was like rope with a paddle or something. Paddling the boat like that. So he said 'Yeah, son, I'll give you a ride -- but first whoever gets in the boat got to bring this person wherever they going.'

You can get in the boat, but okay they want to drop somebody off and on the way back people lived in that Fountainbleau area. My street was right there but I just couldn't get down it but they wasn't gonna go down my street. They had to go drop this man off in the Fountainbleau area and when they dropped him off that means nobody couldn't paddle the boat so I'm a gonna have to paddle the boat back.

AIT: So you would take over from the last person who got off, then you would take over and pick somebody else up and get them to where they needed to go?

Right. And if you don't have no experience in paddling the boat, the boat gonna go one side and you not gonna get it right. And we tuggled, struggled, you know: we got to go at the same time! And if I go to, you know -- I could do me, but this other man he got the right pace. He experienced. You know, I'm just using strength. He's a smaller man but he know how to do it. I'm just going too much, got the boat turning and we oaring and stuff like that. "Hey man, I got me, you got, no man you got me" -- you know. And I'm like, I want to get back to my mother and my sister cause I don't know how high this water is. I could swim a little bit but I mean, I don't think -- the current, the current. Oh I fell about three or four times. I like to got killed.

Before the man rescued me I was trying to go anyway. I had got in an ice thing just like I'm telling you-that float around, that keep ice in it. I looked at those. I got in it. This thing is big as a vehicle. You could put bags of ice in it. It keeps the ice cold. Like a grocery store has sitting outside. I saw one of those floating at a service station and I climbed to it. I had this little innertube, so I floated over allright to the gas pump. When I get to the gas pump, I climb on top of the gas pump. When this thing passed by, floating, I jump in it. And when I jumped in it the doors shut.

Oh, I got out. It just didn't lock good. You know, I'm glad it didn't lock good, 'cause I could have drowned trying to come out. I don't know how I was gonna get out -- but I just felt, you know -- I didn't really feel dead. I didn't. So I got in it and I should've stayed exactly in the middle but when I went end to the end like, the whole thing tipped over. So I'm in, I'm in all this stool, number two, and tasting the transmission oil and motor oil. Everything. You could see all the residue on top of the water. But I didn't care about tasting I was trying to get out of there. So I get out of there and uh, I rode over, what street was it? General Taylor, and uh, right before Napoleon. By the funerary home. I float over there. And they got this dumpster. I get in the dumpster and the dumpster do the same thing.

AIT: It rolled over?

Same thing twice. And uh, then. Okay, so much for that. Twice I like to got killed. I swim so much, but I'm so short-winded now; I couldn't go too far. I might could swim from here across the street that's it. But I think I did good trying to get somewhere. So, after this, I roll with the man to drop somebody off down near Fountainbleau and Carrolton in that area you talking about. Nice area. Rich folks and stuff area.

So we can't see. It's nighttime and we don't have no light on the boat. Now they got the boats that do got the lights on them passing by us and we just roll. They got gas and vrooom (noise). Yeah, they push water, just push us back. And we still going. Paddles, paddles, that's what it was. So this man know where he's staying. I don't know, he must be a fisherman or something'cause there ain't no signs -- all you can see is the top of the houses like the top of the second story of the window.

Fountainbleau. Fountainbleau was messed up. Claiborne from the Jefferson Parish line until the Claiborne bridge on Martin Luther King was pretty bad. So when we paddled, the man, the man told the guy on the boat at first, "Ohm I don't stay but two blocks." So we go to paddling, and this man stay a mile. So, no lights on, no electricity. Some kind of way we got up in there and they got people supposedly evacuated but they didn't. They was still around there watching the houses probably, waiting for somebody to come and do something.

We don't have no light. It looked like, you know, it uh, like we that type of kind of person trying to come get you. But it's an old man that's the boat fer. So he says 'Hey man, we can't be going in this neighborhood and people think, you know -- we don't got no light on here'. 'You ain't got no flashlight?' 'I ain't got no flashlight, man.' So he just wanted to get where he got!

AIT: So you thought rich people might think you were coming to hurt them?

No. Rob 'em or something. Break in their houses or something. They're nice houses. Mansions and stuff, you know? So, anyway. So we went with the man who know where he stayed. He know how to get there but we don't know how to get back out of there. Some streets you could see the top of the signs. Some of 'em. […] So we paddle into the trees. We hit the trees at the top and the electric wires. The current was off -- I mean, it got tied all in the boat. You know you'd paddle, like, you'd paddle wires. More or less down. More or less down all in the streets, and trees done fell in the water and you're on top of a tree. You might be on top of a bus. So we'd get on top of something and we were back up with it.

So the man that owned the boat. He didn't stay but around the corner from where I was going. So that leaves, that leaves uh, the man who owned the boat. And they had two guys rowing the boat with me and the old man in the back. So when we drop one man off that leaves the other man and me doing it. So when we drop the first man off, we drop the second man off, and that leaves just me. The old man was trying, he know how to do it but since the other guy stayed about two blocks from where I stayed I took it over right there.

What happened was, I felt sorry for the old man. So I'm paddling myself 'cause the old man got to get home from my house to his house around the corner -- so I'm doing both of them. I knew how to do it once the guy got out, 'cause I know what this arm can do and I know what this arm can do. In fact, no, I'm lying. I took one paddle and took it on both sides. (cough) [Demonstrating both hands on the paddle.]

So the old man wanted to help me and I didn't want him to, 'cause he had a job trying to get home and I appreciated. When we got in the boat it was like evening time where it was still evening, daylight a little bit. But it wind up at this time like this was no lights. So I felt sorry for the old man and I didn't really know if the old man was gonna make it or not. I really wanted to get where I was going. I was interested in the old man but to tell you the truth I was just trying to get where I wanted to go. I wanted to just get where I wanted to go: to my mother.

Once I got there the second night the helicopter's was picking other people up. They saw the SOS sign of the big flashlights we had.

AIT: How did you know the SOS sign? From Amtrak?

No. [laugh] I made them up [more laughter] I guess they was SOS but they may have been BOB. I don't know what they was. But I mean, watching Gilligan's Island and stuff like that years ago, yeah! Blink them off and on and stuff like that. So, uh what happened was they picked other people up in the helicopters and took them (who-who-whoo-whoo) blowing the roofs off houses. I mean the real helicopters, yeah. The real ones, yeah. I mean not no little ones. Over at Amtrak they got big engines, a train that pulls a train -- these engines. I've worked on those. Those big, and they are diesel engines. I'm affiliated with fixing diesel engines. But they didn't sound like that. That's the real deal, Uncle Sam stuff. Just like the hummer, there's the Latoya hummers, and they got the real hummers, you know. So. Anyway, the helicopters picked them up, and uh, another day pass. Two days pass. The third day.

AIT: What were you doing for food and water?

My sister had cans, canned foods. She had, oh. She got, she keep three babies. She already had that before the storm. I mean she got three babies for my nephew. Her daughter got two babies and they keep food in the house. Just canned foods. And uh they already had charcoal. A lot of food. It, it, it ran out. I mean it didn't run out before we got rescued, but I could have just ate regular. In fact I was. I was eating just corn, open it up and eat it out of the can like that. So, the third day of the helicopters, I got on top of the house. We was on the porch and my sister got a two-story house. It's a two story and the water was getting up to the second story. So I took the flashlight and went to shining the flashlight and stuff like that. Alright. And uh, and they they respond but they didn't stop. They went next door, get somebody. So when I climbed on top of the roof and went to with the red flag they (whoo whoo whoo whoo) made a U-turn and come back and I knew I said. "Hey y'all get ready, y'all get ready." So, they came back and I was on the part of the roof, the edge, and I backed up and when I get back I told my mom and my sister to get ready. Alright. And my mama didn't want to go either.

AIT: How'd you feel when you saw that helicopter coming to you?

I felt good, but I know (pause) something just feel like we were gonna separate for some reason. There was a lot of confusion in the packed house anyway, cause the neighbor's inside with us and things were starting to blow. There was too many people packed in the house so I was glad for some of us to separate.

I managed to let my niece get in there with her three, with her two babies, and my nephew, three kids, with my sister. So that's five kids and my niece gone. That's one load. So, the helicopter didn't come back for three, about two or three hours. But it came back. When it came back I let my sister get in there and my mama didn't want to go and I picked her up and helped her out the window.

The helicopter is the one with both of the blades on. They got the one with the one blade on it and that's pretty strong, but we had the maximum one. So I let my mother and my sister get in the second load first. I let my mother get in there. The big old guy that they had downstairs. He rents from downstairs. So she let him come up there, just a friend. And I let him get in the helicopter and I was the last one to get in it. Yeah, I wanted to rescue everybody. So we got in there and they shot us on the Interstate 10 going west at the Causeway exit. It was a dry land surface and they had like a site set up with things for sleeping and stuff like that. The Army or the National Guard or something would bring this little stuff you put water in it. It's food. You put just water in it and it get hot. Steam come from it. Like if they fighting over in Iraq or something. I mean it's got the dessert, the appetizer, the main course. Yeah, little packs of it. In fact I got some inside right now. They treated me good, they did perfect job. Uncle Sam did up beautiful job. For me myself. Yeah, I got no problem with that. Uncle Sam did his job. He did the best that he can do.

As for what happened in the Superdome or the Convention Center I have no idea, 'cause I was in a facility that Uncle Sam set up on the Interstate that I had no problem with. I think they did a hundred percent okay. You know. For the rescue and Uncle Sam boys that are fighting for the country. In fact I thought he had half of the people out of Iraq here helping New Orleans. I think FEMA and Uncle Sam and everybody did perfect from day one with me and my family. I can't say what happened in the Superdome -- I've heard different people tell me.

I don't know. I don't think too much it was Uncle Sam. I think it was the local government and the city and mostly the city folk in New Orleans. That's what I think. I could be wrong but in this…I mean everybody had time to get out of New Orleans if they had wanted to.

They could have got out. That was a poor excuse. But I'm saying, Mother Nature can't -- Uncle Sam and nobody can't stop was going on. Even me myself, I had time to get out of New Orleans. It's that I didn't think. We had warnings from the Mayor, we had warnings from the Governor. Even before that the President even said, you know, or what he said.

Uncle Sam flew us through the dry surface on the Interstate going West of Interstate 10. dry sites. It's a nice site. And food. FEMA came through there and fed people like they never was fed before. And I know it was uh, military food, but it didn't taste like military food. It tasted just like if you were in a dining room to me and anybody else that eat it. They're still eating it in New Orleans, the people that they dropping it off to. My mother, by her having a disabled problem, I stuck with her. They separated my sister and they called a bus to another parish first. I didn't want to get on that bus with them cause it was like some fussing in the family and I couldn't take the fussing part.

Everybody was fussing so I said, well, too many women around together, too many women together ain't gonna, ain't gonna make it. So I said, well, let me step in there. And it's my old mama -- I can't just let nobody talk to her any kind of way. I say some things to her sometimes make her think that I don't care, but I care, you know. Sometimes you have to say some things to get your point through --you might not even mean them. So my sister and them got on the bus with the kids and the buses came. And everybody couldn't even get on the bus- oh, they had thousands of people out there. So my mother was like in a wheelchair and people probably would have pushed her around, so we just sat in one of those little cots until the next day and we didn't even try to get in line. I knew old people was gonna come up another time. The next day it was the old people turn, and they brought helicopters. The first day it was just bringing helicopters to drop you off safe but the next day was helicopters flying you to the airport. So we got flew to the airport. Not too many loads before us but we they had enough people. I believe it was about the third load of the helicopter ride to the airport. So we get to the airport and they've started bringing people.

Oh, they doing the best they could do. They trying the helicopters-oh, they doing everything they could do, I know they were. So we stayed about two days sleeping on the concrete at Louis Armstrong Airport. They was full upstairs and downstairs. So you had to sign papers to get on the airplane to go to Houston or to go to all parts of Texas -- Houston, San Antone, uh, San Diego.

At first that's how Houston get a hundred and twenty something thousand people. At here we only got 4 to 5,000 people. And they separate them -- Kansas City and stuff like that. So by the time that line went down the next day we spent the night. So when the daytime came they had too many people left. Flying everybody out -- first class, Delta whatever, no name airplane -- whatever it is get you out of New Orleans.

So my mother still wanted to lay around, she didn't want to go again. And I couldn't get her on the airplane. I wanted to go. She wouldn't get on the airplane. So I had somebody to kind of scare her, like she was going to go to jail or something if she didn't go. So after that she got on the airplane and they flew us to Austin airport. Flew us to Austin airport and once we got there we caught the bus, come down here and that was it.

It's been great. 100 percent, I think. Our plans are to still take care of my mother and see if we can get some kind of temporary housing. And investigate the property damage back in New Orleans and then take it from there. Pray every day and hope for the best.

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