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In the First Days : Inside the Superdome

Malik Rahim Sep 15, 2005

in the first daysThe hurricane hit at the end of the month, the time when poor people are most vulnerable. Food stamps don’t buy enough but for about three weeks of the month, and by the end of the month everyone runs out. Now they have no way to get their food stamps or any money, so they just have to take what they can to survive. Many people are getting sick and very weak. Little scratches and sores are turning into major wounds from the toxic water that people are walking through.

People whose homes and families were not destroyed went into the city right away with boats to bring the survivors out, but law enforcement told them they weren’t needed. They were willing and able to rescue thousands, but they weren’t allowed to. Every day countless volunteers were trying to help, but they were turned back. Despite this, almost all the rescues were done by volunteers.

People were told to go to the Superdome, but they had no food, no water there. And before they could get in, people had to stand in line for four to five hours in the rain because everybody was being searched one by one at the entrance.

My son and his family – his wife and kids, ages one, five and eight – were flooded out of their home when the levee broke. They had to swim out until they found an abandoned building with two rooms above water level. There were 21 people in those two rooms for a day and a half. A guy in a boat who just said “I’m going to help regardless” rescued them and took them to Highway I-10 and dropped them there. They sat on the freeway for about three hours, because someone said they’d be rescued and taken to the Superdome. Finally they just started walking, had to walk six and a half miles.

When they got to the Superdome, my son wasn’t allowed in—I don’t know why—so his wife and kids wouldn’t go in. They kept walking, and they happened to run across a guy with a tow truck that they knew, and he gave them his own personal truck. When they got here, they had no gas, so I had to punch a hole in my gas tank to give them some gas, and now I’m trapped. I’m getting around by bicycle. People from Plaquemines Parish were rescued on a ferry and dropped off on dock near here. All day they were sitting on the dock in the hot sun with no food, no water. They were all sitting there surrounded by armed guards. We asked the guards if we could bring them water and food. My mother and all the other church ladies were cooking for them, and we have plenty of good water. But the guards said, “No. If you don’t have enough water and food for everybody, you can’t give anything.” Finally the people were hauled off on school buses from other parishes.

There are gangs of white vigilantes near here riding around in pickup trucks, all of them armed, and any young Black they see who they figure doesn’t belong in their community, they shoot him. I tell them, “Stop! You’re going to start a riot.” In the three days before the hurricane hit, we knew it was coming and everyone could have been evacuated. We have Amtrak here that could have carried everybody out of town. There were enough school buses that could have evacuated 20,000 people easily, but they just let them be flooded. My son watched 40 buses go underwater – they just wouldn’t move them, afraid they’d be stolen.

There’s military right here in New Orleans, but for three days they weren’t even mobilized.You’d think this was a Third World country. I’m in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, the only part that isn’t flooded. The water is good. Our parks and schools could easily hold 40,000 people and they’re not using any of it. This is criminal. These people are dying for no other reason than the lack of organization.

Malik Rahim is a veteran of the New Orleans Black Panther Party and an organizer of public-housing tenants.

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