Thursday, September 08, 2005

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

We made it home safely. I hope to post something about the journey home and what we found on our return. After that, I hope I can return to posting an autism blog rather than a hurricane blog. But there is still so much to be said about this disaster.

I need a little more time before I can finish telling my family's story. I suspect the only moral to be taken from any personal account I can add will be that some people can incredibly fortunate. So today, I want to post the following first-hand account, which is far more enlightening than anything I can say. This account, written by a student intern in the Sports Information Department at Louisiana State University, has been making the rounds on the internet for good reason. Like many of us have been doing recently, this young man reached out to his friends via email because the phones were (and still are to a certain extent) virtually useless. The writer details some of his observations at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (or the PMAC as we Tigers call it) and LSU Field House, which were being used as evacuation facilities. After my rant against the FEMA leadership in the last post, I thought it might be appropriate to highlight the tremendous effort being made by both volunteers and federal employees.

Little did I know what I would be doing following Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath but as I type right now, there won’t be a more gratifying or more surreal experience than what I went through tonight. We went up to the office today and held a press conference regarding the postponement of the game [the football game between LSU and North Texas State that was scheduled for September 3, 2005] and it was the right decision. As the PMAC and Field House are being used as shelters we decided as an office to do everything we could to help the situation.

At first, we were just supposed to make copies of this disaster relief form for all of the people. The copiers will never print a document more important than that. It’s weird. Nearly 12 hours ago we were running off copies of game notes for a football game that is now meaningless. We printed the copies and carried them over to the Field House at 6:30 p.m. I wouldn’t leave the area for another eight hours.

On the way back to the PMAC in a cart, it looked like the scene in the movie Outbreak. FEMA officials, U.S. Marshals, National Guard, and of course the survivors. Black Hawks were carrying in victims who were stranded on roofs. Buses rolled in from New Orleans with other survivors. As Michael and I rode back to the PMAC, a lady fell out of her wheelchair and we scrambled to help her up.

We met Coach Miles and Coach Moffit
[LSU’s head football coach and strength coach] in the PMAC to see all the survivors and it was the view of a hospital. Stretchers rolled in constantly and for the first time in my life I saw someone die right in front of me. A man rolled in from New Orleans and was badly injured on his head. Five minutes later he was dead. And that was the scene all night. What did we do, we started hauling in supplies. And there were thousands of boxes of supplies. The CDC from Atlanta arrived directing us what to do.

One of the U.S. Marshals was on hand so the supplies would not become loot. I asked him what his primary job was. He serves on the committee of counter terrorism, but once he saw the disaster, he donated his forces to come help. He said the death toll could be nearing 10,000. It was sickening to hear that.

After unloading supplies, I started putting together baby cribs and then IV poles. Several of our football players and Big Baby
[LSU basketball player, Glen Davis] and Tasmin Mitchell [another LSU basketball player] helped us. At the same time, families and people strolled in. Mothers were giving birth in the locker rooms. The auxiliary gym “Dungeon” was being used as a morgue. I couldn’t take myself down there to see it.

I worked from 8 p.m. until 2:45 a.m. Before I left, three more buses rolled in and they were almost out of room. People were standing outside. The smells, the sights were hard to take.

A man lying down on a cot asked me to come see him. He said, “I just need someone to talk to, to tell my story because I have nobody and nothing left.” He turned out to be a retired military veteran. His story was what everybody was saying. He thought he survived the worst, woke up this morning and the levees broke. Within minutes water rushed into his house. He climbed to the attic, smashed his way through the roof and sat there for hours. He was completely sunburned and exhausted. Nearly 12 hours later a chopper rescued him and here he was.

We finished the night hauling boxes of body bags and more were on the way. As we left, a man was strolled in on a stretcher and scarily enough he suffered gunshots. The paramedic said he was shot several times because a looter or a convict needed his boat and he wouldn’t give it to him. Another man with him said it was “an uncivilized society no better than Iraq down there right now.” A few minutes later he was unconscious and later pronounced dead. I then left as they were strolling a three-year old kid in on a stretcher. I couldn’t take it any more.

That was the scene at the PMAC and it gives me a new perspective on things. For those of you who I haven’t been able to get in touch with because of phone service, I pray you are safe. God bless.

Bill Martin
LSU Sports Information


There’s a lot of good people doing some pretty incredible things around here. Last night, I listened on the satellite radio in our car as Chief Eddie Compass of the N.O.P.D. told us about the unbelievable job being done by the officers who stayed on the job even as many of their comrades deserted the City. And the New Orleans area is getting help from its friends and neighbors, including many who may recall Louisianians coming to their aid in times of need. Things will never be the same around here, and that is both a blessing and a curse.

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