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Jevon L. HazMat Removal Worker, 8th Ward 09/14/05

I’m twenty-two years old now. I’ve been staying in New Orleans all of my life. I stayed downtown, Eighth Ward, right off of Franklin Avenue. I stayed on E Street, a block off Franklin Avenue Street. I went to Sarah T. Reed High School.

At the time I was unemployed, but my job profession, I do hazmat, lead, asbestos removal. I was living with a relative of mine, first cousin. I have one brother, a mother, and she’s married, but only one blood brother.

AIT: What were you doing when it started to rain?

I was out hanging. My mother and them, they called me on my cell phone. They told me to get to where they was, and they was leaving. They left a day before the storm.. Yes, they went to Lafayette, Louisiana. Since I wasn’t able to get to them, I wound up getting left, you know. I rode it out downtown, right off of Franklin Avenue Street. There was about five or six of us in the attic. Me personally, at twenty-two years, I never evacuated for no hurricane. I never thought I’d be swimming down my own block.

AIT: What were some of the hurricanes you stayed for?

All of them, except if I was a child and my momma took us somewhere, you know, I don’t remember that. But in recent memory, you know, teenager or before teenager, I never evacuated for a hurricane, and I’m twenty-two. I never imagined swimming down my block. So when the hurricane hit, I was surprised, got surprised, I was surprised on how high that water had gotten.

Man, it was actually higher outside than it was inside, because we had doors closed. But eventually all that gave way, and started coming through windows. We had like an iron gate and on the iron gate was plastic, see, on the bottom part. The water just burst through that, Pow!, and when we saw that, we were shocked. We was thinking water, at least to your knees, maybe your thighs, but the water got so high we had to go into the attic. We rode the attic out for a day. We rode the attic out for a day. We left the morning after the storm. We got it all on camera.

We left that morning after, because it was getting hot in the attic. This young man right here [gestures to a friend], I think he’s the main reason we got picked up by the rescue boat, because the rescue boat wasn’t coming for us. It was coming—they had a woman on the boat and she had a family up here not too far, but since we was in the water, we were swimming to Franklin Avenue Bridge, that was the highest point—

I know how to swim. We were swimming through. It was chin-high. The water wasn’t all the way to the ceiling, but it was high, so we had enough room to swim out of the attic, out the door, and we was outside. Man, I never imagined swimming down my block.

Brother, it was like the ocean there and God just dropped houses in it. Or a company just dropped houses in it. That’s how high the water was.

So we were swimming to Franklin Avenue Bridge. On our way there, we wasn’t even half way yet, we ran across a rescue boat. They picked us up. We got separated. Two brothers got left behind because they didn’t make it out of the attic yet. So on my little journey, about three of us, we went Uptown. And man, when we got Uptown, brother, we saw that there wasn’t no water. It had hurricane damage, but there wasn’t no water.

I went to looting to survive. I stole hygienic products, I stole clothes, all that, because all I left out the house with the clothes on my body. You know, how long am I supposed to wear that? I went to a relative’s house that was Uptown. That was before the dams broke, or the dams, or the pumping station, whatever they want to say, broke. That was before that broke. Uptown was dry when we got up there. It was like the water followed us.

Hurricane struck on the 29th? On a Sunday? That was Monday, because we stayed in the attic that whole day the hurricane was coming. We left that next morning. We got picked up. They dropped us off on the Interstate, on our Interstate. They were bringing people to the Superdome, but instead of going to the Dome, me and about three others, we decided to go Uptown by some other relatives. Uptown was dry, Uptown. I believe the looting started, people were doing it for the hell of it. Some people had to do it because they really had to. Me, I’m one of the ones that really had to because all I had was the clothes on my body. You know what I’m saying. I took clothes, I took hygienic products, I took food to survive. I did that all Uptown.

See, when that water came, like I said, the pumping station or the dams broke, that’s when the water came Uptown. Because there was no water Uptown, it looked like normal. Just had some roof damage, tree damage.

The water finally come. By that night, I said, we stayed in the attic that whole day. That next morning we left, that’s when we made it Uptown. By that evening, six o’clock, the water was coming. By early that morning, the water was in the house, bad. This was at my relatives, a few blocks off of St. Charles Street, a few blocks off of St. Charles. So the water is in the house now, the next morning. Not the morning after the hurricane.

Tuesday morning, the water’s in the house. We leave from there and we go to the Convention Center in New Orleans. Man, total chaos. I don’t know if was worser than the Superdome, but I know the Convention Center had no order.

They wasn’t serving people water. They wasn’t serving people food. I heard they dropped it from helicopters, but us personally, we broke into kitchens that was in the Convention Center. We got ice, we got stuff to drink, something to eat, salads and shit—

AIT: Was there electricity at that point?

No, no electricity—well, yeah, they did have back-up lights. Not that many, they did have back-up lights. Man, they had one side of the Convention Center, when the sun went down, that was all the light you had.

So, when the sun went down, it was total darkness. That was just one part of the Convention Center. I tell you, it was scary. You hearing me? It was total—it was getting you where you live. That’s something a lot of New Orleans people say, you know, when you hurt, you get it where you live. That was truly the definition of that. Man, people was doing what they had to do to survive. It just so happened that doing what you got to do to survive gets, like, blurred into just doing whatever you want.

Like, they had rapings, they had people drinking, smoking, doing what they wanted to, you know. Really, they was doing what they wanted to do. Me personally, I had saw a few dead bodies before, maybe about three in my lifetime, just laying there. But I never actually saw nobody drop dead. I had saw old people drop dead in that Convention Center, so that was… [falls into silence]

AIT: How long were you there?

Just a day. That’s the only place I spent more than one night here. That was the third day.

AIT: At the Convention Center, you said there was nobody handing out water?

Not from what I saw. Now I heard that they dropped stuff from helicopters and let the people jump up on it, but I didn’t see that. Me, personally, and a few family members, when we was in the Convention Center, we broke into their little cafeteria area, the kitchen where they prepare stuff. And we got what we had to get to eat and drink.

We slept inside. To be honest, I haven’t been in the Convention Center that many times, so we was on the first floor. I was sleeping in a chair, you know, but they had other people sleeping on floors and stuff. That was the third night. The oldest person in my group, they can’t take this. They don’t want to wait in the Convention Center, so we left from there. A cousin of mine stole a Cadillac. Everybody was stealing cars. The Convention Center was so packed. We saw buses passing us up, the traveling buses, Greyhound buses, stuff like that, was passing in front of the Convention Center, passing us up.

AIT: Did they have people in them already?

No, no, they did not have people in them. They was passing us up. So by that next morning—we spent the night in the Convention Center—by that next morning, people was breaking into where people had parked their cars at. They were breaking into dealerships. A cousin of mine stole a Cadillac, so the family members we had, the luggage that we had—I didn’t have no clothes. Everything I have on or I have with me now, I got it from looting. So we took all our stuff, we shoved it in the Cadillac and we got tight.

We went to their house in Metairie. Metairie was all right, no water, no damage, no nothing. We spent the night there to regroup, to rethink, to see what we was going to do. So from there, in Metairie, we went to the Interstate where they had—not a meeting, but a gathering. Where people were gathering at to be evacuated, right there on the Interstate in Metairie. I can’t really say what exit or nothing, but I know that it was in Metairie on the Interstate. The armed people was on helicopters. All right. They were taking people first who had like conditions. They was taking people who had conditions first, like you was ill or something like that.

Let me tell this: they had three traveling buses. Jesse Jackson was there. He did what he could. He wasn’t letting just specific people on the bus. He just let as many as could get on the bus, so I did get to see him do that, but that was it—just three buses. You know, that wasn’t enough.

Man, I would say, I would say there were thousands of people there, maybe about two to three thousand, you know. It was a lot of people out there, all on the Interstate.

But if you had a certain [wrist] band on—there was only three colors, blue, red, yellow, you was getting on a helicopter and going to the airport. One of my eldest members, she had breathing problems, so she got hooked up with a yellow badge and all her family members got hooked up with a yellow badge, so we got on a Chinook helicopter or whatever—that’s just a name I’ve been hearing, Chinook—we got on the helicopter and they brung us to the airport.

The airport was crowded. We spent the night in the airport. After that night, the next morning, they flew us out, we got out. My first time on an airplane At first we got word we was going to a military base in Texas, somewhere in Texas, but when we landed and we got on the bus, they wound up taking us to the [Austin] Convention Center.

We wasn’t that far from here [Austin], at the nearest airport, so the bus ride didn’t take that long. They sent public buses, you know, buses that run on the street. They sent them buses and they picked us up and brung us to the Convention Center. We were some of the first people who got here. And really, that was either four or five nights that we spent in New Orleans from place to place until I got to Texas. This was the only place I spent more than one night. Everybody was living hell.

AIT: They’ve been treating you okay in there?

Austin is fine, just fine. They feed us all day. They’ve been giving us clothes, you know. Trying to get the FEMA, Red Cross money situated, but other than that, I’ve been all right.

Family members was in Houston. We had some family members that was way in Oklahoma. Now we are all reunited here, so we’re all together now.

Two or three days ago I talked to [my family in Lafayette] for the first time since the hurricane hit. I got a chance to talk to my mother, my step-father, my little brother, and my grandfather. And they was all glad to hear from me and I was glad to hear from them, bro.

They’re doing fine. They’re doing fine. My little brother, he told me he starting school this Monday that just passed. They said they’re going to start working out there. They didn’t tell me they planned on staying there, but as far as being all right, they say they’re all right.

AIT: Can you describe how you were treated in New Orleans when you were trying to get out?

In New Orleans, we was strictly treated like we was at fault, honestly. We asked policemen to tell us—well, “We don’t know where to tell you, but keep walking toward the Convention Center .”

Or there were some telling us to get on the Crescent City Connection that takes you into Jefferson Parish. Thank God we didn’t go across the bridge, because we heard here they had policemen telling people, “You can’t come across here.” So that means they were sending people back across the bridge, but luckily, we didn’t go across the Crescent City Connection. We went straight to the Convention Center. But, man, the policemen really had bad attitudes. I don’t know if was their fault, but I don’t think they knew what was going on. But their attitude was bad.

AIT: Did you see any National Guard while you were in New Orleans? Army? People who looked like they were with the military?

LYMUEL: No, unh-uh. . All I saw was New Orleans Police. I did see National Guards when we got in Metairie and that’s where the helicopters came and got us at. But before that, no, I didn’t see no military, no National Guard, or nothing. I just saw NOPD. We like to call them NOPDirtchee. NOPDirty. It’s a funny way of saying dirty. NOPDirtchee. That’s all we saw.

TIM: Tell me about your new apartment here in Austin.

The apartment? Nice apartment, one bedroom, good area, I-35 North, right off of Rundberg. I’ve been in there about two days now. You know, I didn’t have nothing, so I took the air mattress from here out of the Convention Center. They gave us food stamps and I got clothes from here in the Convention Center, so I got food, I got clothing, I got something to sleep on. I even have a TV with one station on it that somebody gave. It’s not bad, but I ain’t complaining, bro, I ain’t complaining.

I’ve been looking for jobs, not actually going out, but I went to the Job Fair that they had here and they have other sources. They give you numbers and stuff. So far, I haven’t had a job. So far, I haven’t had luck finding a job, but you, I ain’t gave up. I know it’s going happen. It’s going to come together. I’m staying positive.

AIT: How are you staying positive?

I ain’t had much before the hurricane hit me, so it’s not like I’m expecting a whole lot to be given back to me. I’m just asking to get something to help me get started.

Yeah, it’s coming together. It really is coming together. I just got my little issue, my little dollars and stuff from the Red Cross. I got the apartment. If I don’t find no job, I know I’ll be able to pay at least a few months rent with the money that I’ve received. But I’m just staying upbeat.

If you think bad or ill, then you will become ill, and this is a foreign land to me. I can’t be sad, beat down, I gotta stay up. I gotta make it. I ain’t actually made it yet in New Orleans, but I was getting there. I was getting there. Like I said, I’m twenty-two years old. I was working. Me and my cousin shared a place. I was slowly getting there. It just so happened this came and set me back more steps, but you know I’m gonna get it. That’s all I can say.

Thank you, Austin, for accepting us and doing what you can for us. And I’m gonna take it from there.

I just wanted to add this last thing. I truly would give it all back, just to go back to normal, but you know, things happen. It may have been meant to happen, who knows? Only God knows, but I’m gonna deal with it like it come to me.

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