There are plenty of stories from New Orleans after the levees failed. Quite a few of them are the same story. You have to wonder if the similar tales are just one incident passed through many hands, and whether any are just fiction. Of course, as a relief worker you have to treat them all as true, and the first-person teller as honest. (and not delusional-another possibility)
I met J during an expedition to St Joseph with one of the nursing staff. J was a 25-ish, muscular man, with a fine collection of tattoos. He also had the remains of multiple infections on his feet and lower legs. Compared to the others waiting for us, he was physically the lowest priority for the nurses. But he was agitated at the wait. Thinking that I might chill him down some, I gloved up and took a look at him. The antibiotics he'd been taking had done a fine job of drying up the lesions on his lower legs. No pain, no discomfort, seemingly healthy as an ox otherwise. What he really needed was someone to talk to. And talk he did. His story began in an apartment building that became isolated when the waters rose. After a couple days, he volunteered to swim out to find a boat for the people trapped with him. With a scrounged boat he made repeated trips. His group ended up on one of the I-10 overpasses for a couple more days. Conditions were as bad as you could imagine. He was incredibly shaken up by it. What bothered him the most was watching a small child die with no way to prevent it. That, he could not stop talking about. And it was the talking, coupled with the physical contact of an examination which he needed the most right then-and which he will need for some time to come.
Did his story ring true? Yes. There was something about the way he told it, and the details he worried about that somehow seemed right. But, what convinced me was an older woman we saw that day. She was from the same building, but not related to him, and her story of their escape matched his. You'll have to believe me on this, but that elderly, black, deeply-believing Southern Baptist lady wouldn't have told a lie if her life depended on it.
Dale Austin 2006
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008