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- September 19, 2005
- Vol. 64
- No. 12
Surviving Hell & High Water
Braving Disease, Despair and the Loss of Everything They Knew, Katrina's Victims Tell Amazing Tales of Tragedy and Heroism
We put the baby in a big Tupper-ware container and we put the lid on. We left part of it open for the baby to breathe through and we let her sleep the whole time. The rest of us in the Boston Whaler just watched the storm happen and hoped we wouldn't die.
MARIO SAPET, 56, of Biloxi, Miss., saved several neighbors from drowning in the storm.
The first thing to float down our street was a white car. The next thing was a raft full of pelicans grooming each other. I'm yelling at my wife to bring me something heavy to hold back the door and then suddenly the water just burst in. It looked like our house was in the middle of some rapids on a river. We started wading through knee-deep water and I heard our neighbor Lee yelling for help from the roof. All I could see was her leg hanging over the ridge and her hand on the chimney. When I came around her stepson was dangling on the edge so I climbed up and I got him down and I grabbed a 2x4 and I held it up and she used it as a foot stop and I slid her down the roof and grabbed her and pulled her around. [Sapet then evacuated a 92-year-old neighbor and her three children, all senior citizens.] I don't know if all these people were at the end of their ropes, but I knew they could use a little help. But then, I owed them a bunch of favors anyway. Because they're great neighbors, just great neighbors.
MICHAEL CLAUDEL, 40, of Waveland, Miss., helped several people and a number of pets flee rising waters.
We started out in a laundromat but soon we were standing in three feet of water. We got on top of the dryers but the water was rushing in. Then we opened up the attic and start putting everybody in there. The water starts coming in so we busted a hole in the ceiling. We took some boards and put them together so we could cross over the gable of the roof. We walked 40 feet along the back of the roof and we grabbed two 6x12s and laid them across a trailer next to the building, and then we built another bridge to a bathroom on the second floor of another building. The winds were blowing 100, 125 miles an hour, easy, but we got everybody over safely, including a blind man, six puppies and three birds. I think one of the birds got away. We lost one bird.
DEBRIA TRIPPS, 43, of New Orleans, hoped to ride out the storm in her home with family.
The next thing you know, the TV's floating, the icebox is floating. All we could do was get to higher ground. We ran up to the attic and I said, "Lord, what's my next move?" The kids are scared because the parents are crying. We were saying how we're going to change our lives for the better and all of the sudden, my cell phone rang. It was my son in Houston. The phone stayed on long enough for me to give him our address to send help, and then it cut off. That was the hand of God. We got up on the roof and eventually a helicopter rescued us. Unless you experience it, there's no way you can fathom what people will do to survive for themselves and their loved ones.
JAMES WARREN, 43, of New Orleans, rode out Katrina in his home and figured the worst was over when, on Aug. 30, water began flooding his home.
The house was filling up like a glass. It came up so fast and high it pushed me up to the ceiling. I started swimming out of my home and into the street. I saw a woman holding a newborn baby and trying to keep her toddler from washing away. I stayed in the water for six hours and kept yelling until the National Guard picked me up. So many others were calling out and no one was coming. I will never forget the horrible screaming around me.
PENNY DEAN, 50, in Pearlington, Miss., survived by climbing onto her roof and hanging on.
When the water started coming in, I grabbed some towels to wipe it up. Then I looked out the window and saw the water rushing at us. When I saw furniture floating by I thought, "I'm going to die." My husband, Tommy, and I went up to the second floor, but then water started filling up the floor and we broke out a window and got on the roof. I grabbed onto a tree next to the house and held on for dear life. I was watching clouds rushing overhead and waves rolling by and it was the most frightening thing I ever saw, but also beautiful at the same time. I was amazed by the power of the storm. I was getting hit by flying debris and the rain and wind kept me from breathing right. I felt like I was drowning. And then the eye of the storm passed, and everything got quiet. We lost everything. Katrina didn't care if you were poor or rich; all the houses look the same now. But I'm determined to get my life back. I want to look back on Katrina with a feeling of triumph—to say she tried to beat us down, but we wouldn't let her.
PARHAM JABERI, 29, in his second year of a medical residency at New Orleans' Tulane University, was assigned to treat evacuees at the Superdome and was overwhelmed by the crowds and poor conditions there.
They basically waited until 24 hours before the hurricane to get ready for the evacuees. We were short of supplies, food and water. Then I heard experts on TV speculate that the dome wouldn't withstand the kind of winds that were expected. I got scared, told my supervisor I was going, grabbed my bag of clothing and left. I know some will view me as a coward. What happened, what I did, is something that will be with me the rest of my life. Before long I began to feel guilty about leaving. I am a doctor and those people were my patients. The next day I learned that a Louisiana State University stadium was being turned into a triage center. I drove there and went inside and volunteered. [Jaberi treated hundreds of survivors for everything from dehydration to chronic diseases. He is still there seeing patients.] It's been life affirming, seeing all these people work together to try to save those who have gone through so much. I've seen so much concern for people, so much caring.
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