In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway
and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up
to take us out of the City. The crowd cheered and began to move.
As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the
foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing
their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various
directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched
forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told
them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's
assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The
commander had lied to us to get us to move.
We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank
was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in
their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.
So they set up camp on the freeway until....
Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was
correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his
patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking
freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow
away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck
with our food and water. Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the
The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New
Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search
and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a
ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the
limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large
section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.
We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The
airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of
humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast
guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.
It didn't end there......