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Larry One Man’s Struggle Against Katrina and Its Aftermath 09/09/05

This story was recounted to me by a man who is currently housed at the Convention Center in Austin, TX. It tells what happened to him and his family as they struggled to survive Katrina. Larry is not his real name. He expressed shame about some of the actions he took. In respect for his privacy I chose this pseudonym. I met Larry while working as a volunteer helping people like Larry find their loved ones and apply for aid using the Internet.

Larry and his family lived in an apartment complex near the downtown area of New Orleans. Both he and his wife were employed and supporting their family of five children. His children attended school. He and his wife are trying to raise their children to be law-abiding, caring citizens.

When the mandatory evacuation was declared, Larry was at work. Having no automobile and with public transportation in disarray it took him several hours to get home to his wife and children. They had no means of trying to leave the city. Word was going around that people were standing in twelve hour lines to get into the Superdome and winds were already picking up. He felt that he had no option other than to protect his family as best he could in their apartment.

They survived the storm. Then the levies broke and water started rising rapidly. A woman, her sister, and her four children who lived on the floor above Larry’s family had also ridden out the storm. Working together they managed to get Larry and his family moved up one story. The waters kept rising. They stood in a circle and prayed. The water got to over knee deep where they were and stopped. At this point they had very little useable water and almost no useable food to share among their group of thirteen people. The water level started receding.

They heard that the Superdome was turning people away, but that people had gathered in the New Orleans Convention Center. Larry, the three women and nine children struck out through waist high water to the Convention Center. Larry owned a gun, but had heard that no weapons were being allowed into the centers. He left his gun among the ruins of his home.

Once inside the Convention Center, they found nightmarish conditions. He talked of being in almost total darkness much of the time. The Center was wet and filthy and smelled of human waste. New Orleans police were present, but they were afraid for their own lives. People were out of control. He said he saw many bodies, some obviously bludgeoned to death. He saw a mother holding the lifeless body of her tiny infant, ripped from her and trampled to death during the panic as the water rose in the convention center. He watched a man die of an asthma attack.

Larry managed to get his group into a small corner area. He sat awake for over two days and confronted people who attempted to accost his group. He stated that “Those bastards were coming in the dark and taking away children and women and violating them.” He said there were people screaming for help.

While describing this Larry kept repeating “My children saw all of this. My children had to see this.”

Every hour or so they were told that rescue crews were coming to help them. This continued to be promised for the two days they were at the Center. No one ever came.

Word started to spread among the crowd that they weren’t being rescued because they were all contaminated and were considered a threat to others. During the last night they were there, an explosion was heard nearby, the sky was full of smoke and they could see several fires burning around them. They had heard planes overhead. The people in the center believed that the US government was bombing the city to eradicate their disease potential. He decided that night that when daylight came he had to seek shelter elsewhere.

The next day he went out and found an abandoned house that was somewhat set back from the street with trees around it. It was difficult to sight from the street; it looked safe. Larry broke into the house. He went back to the Convention Center; got the three women, and the children and they waded to the house. Once safely inside they found they had less than one gallon of water and still no useable food. Larry said he had been giving the children just enough water to wet their lips for several hours. He went to search for supplies.

While he was out he encountered another man with his wife and children and told them they were welcome to join his group. Now they were eighteen; two men, three women and thirteen children.

Larry and the other man found an office building that had already been broken into. They went in and found several gallons of bottled water and some vending machines. They took all the water they could carry. They broke into the vending machines and took food. He looked at me and said “We didn’t take all of it; we left some for other people.”

Larry had found a machete in the street. He and the other man took turns sitting outside the front door with the machete to be sure the women and children were protected.

After daylight the two men went out in search of more water and food. He said “I remembered this nice restaurant that I had seen when I was going back and forth to work. It was near the back of an office building and I thought that maybe no one else had thought of it.” He found that restaurant. It was totally intact. None of the windows were even broken. Larry said “I looked inside the window. All the tables were set with clean white tablecloths. Everything was so nice, not violated; it looked so normal. I had a large rock in my hand, but I could not break the window.” He left that restaurant untouched.

A few blocks away Larry’s friend found a large lot filled with eighteen wheeler trucks. In their midst was an office with lots of cubicles. They broke in to the office and found food and water. They also found the room where the keys to the trucks were kept. He said “I knew what we had to do. I stole someone’s eighteen wheeler truck; I couldn’t forget those people who were still at the Convention Center.”

Larry and his friend gathered their group from the home that had been their shelter. Then they went back to the Convention Center. He said he was horrified again by what he saw, bodies around, most not even covered. Many of the people he approached were afraid to come with him. He estimated that maybe close to a hundred people finally left with them in the truck. They managed to get to a place where they saw planes landing and flying out. He said that their little group of eighteen along with about thirty others was put on a Navy jet. They didn’t know where they were going until the plane was in flight. Then they were told that they were being brought to Austin.

He noted that in the last couple of days his children had started to play normally with other kids. He again expressed his concerned about the impact on his children. He said “Today I asked my twelve-year daughter if she remembered what happened in New Orleans.” He said she answered “Yes Daddy, I remember all of it.” and they held each other and cried.

An Austin Red Cross chaplain had also heard this story. He was encouraging Larry to tell the story to his congregation tomorrow, 9/11, at their church service. When I left Larry had not decided if he would speak to the congregation or not. He kept saying, “I’ve done things I’m ashamed of. I don’t know if I can tell this to other people.”

I heard a lot of stories while I was at the Austin Convention Center. Many were very troubling; some were full of hope; no one else caught my attention like this man. His story was strongly compelling. He was obviously struggling with shock, fear, uncertainty and shame. But mostly he was worried about the impact of all this on the children. He was concerned about what his own children would remember of his actions.

I want Larry’s story to be heard. This man deserves to be listened to. The trauma that he and his wife and children experienced was so wrong. People need to know this story.

When you hear that the people of New Orleans stayed behind because they were stupid or stubborn; when you hear about the ‘looting’. Please remember Larry’s story. 

Please explore our new digital archive of oral histories. We encourage you to read, reflect, and respond to these stories. Click here to open a separate window.



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