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Remembering Hurricane Katrina: Voices from the Storm

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This Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Early on the morning of August 29th, 2005, the storm slammed into the Gulf Coast, just south of New Orleans. It ravaged the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and left over 1,800 people dead. Eighty percent of the city of New Orleans was under water after the levees failed. We go back to 2005 to air some of the voices from New Orleans in the aftermath of the storm. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

ANJALI KAMAT: On Sunday, President Obama visited New Orleans and praised the recovery of the city and the resilience of its people. We’ll hear more about what this recovery actually looks like in a few minutes, but first we go back in time five years ago to the days right before and soon after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, beginning with then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordering the evacuation of the city.

    MAYOR RAY NAGIN: Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I had better news for you, but we are facing a storm that most of us have feared…Every person is hereby ordered to immediately evacuate the City of New Orleans, or, if no other alternative is available, to immediately move to one of the facilities within the city that will be designated as a refuge of last resort.

    AMY GOODMAN: New Orleans and the Gulf region remain in a state of catastrophe following the devastating Hurricane Katrina. At least 80 percent of New Orleans is underwater. The city has no electricity and little drinkable water. Officials say New Orleans will be uninhabitable for weeks. On Tuesday, two levees broke, flooding areas of the city that had appeared to survive the storm.

    MAYOR RAY NAGIN: This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans. That’s — they’re thinking small, man, and this is a major, major, major deal.

    BILL QUIGLEY: You’re talking about tens of thousands of people who are left behind, and those are the sickest, the oldest, poorest, the youngest, the people with disabilities and the like. And the plan was that everybody should leave. Well, you can’t leave if you’re in a hospital. You can’t leave if you’re a nurse. You can’t leave if you’re a patient. You can’t leave if you’re in a nursing home. You can’t leave if you don’t have a car.

    TAMER EL-GHOBASHY: There are throngs of people, easily in the tens of thousands, maybe forty to fifty thousand people, in my estimation, standing on this plaza trying to get to a very narrow area where they’re being escorted to the buses. I haven’t seen one bus leave yet.

    SURVIVOR 1: These babies. Six and eight months. The people just walking past us.

    SURVIVOR 2: No food, no water, no nothing. Whatever we have, we’ve been taking it. That’s the only way we can survive.

    SURVIVOR 3: We got the food right here. Let me show you, right here. All of it, look. Right here, look. City won’t give us nothing! Nothing!

    SURVIVOR 4: Gotta help ourselves, right? Open the gate right there.

    SURVIVOR 3: Look, look, look! Look, they won’t give us nothing! We ain’t drinking no ice water! Nothing!

    SURVIVOR 5: It’s not about low income. It’s not about rich people, poor people. It’s about people! Nobody wants to hurt anybody in this city! Nobody wants to hurt these people who have these businesses! We want a little air and a little food and water, for God’s sake! That’s it!

    SURVIVOR 6: There’s nobody in charge — the National Guard. There’s the police. There is nobody. Somebody needs to come take charge and put organization and get these people to safety, to get them clothes, the basic things that they need to live from day to day.

    OLIVIA JOHNSON McQUEEN: Well, we’re hearing people been killed down here. People were saying that bodies was just lying out in the street. They were shooting each other. The military was shooting. One of my neighbors said the military guy shot at him. So that’s what made me not want to come down here.

    AMY GOODMAN: Federal relief officials have played almost no role. The head of FEMA, Michael Brown, admitted on CNN last night his agency didn’t even know that thousands of hungry refugees were inside the Convention Center. The White House announced it would have zero tolerance for looters, even for those taking essential items needed to stay alive.

    DAMU SMITH: Well, I want zero tolerance for that kind of language being used by leaders of our government to discuss poor people, poor black people, who are trying to survive in the — under the most desperate, insane circumstances.

    KANYE WEST: I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. If you see a white family, it says they’re looking for food…George Bush doesn’t care about black people.

    AMY GOODMAN: In Biloxi, Mississippi, the first federal aid arrived only yesterday, three full days after the storm wiped out entire sections of the city. In smaller towns in Mississippi, help has still not arrived.

    TUTI SHEIBAN: We left for the hurricane and came back Monday night, hoping that we could help some people because, I don’t know, looking at the response to this storm, particularly initially, there wasn’t a lot of outside help. So we decided that really it was up to the people of Jefferson Parish to take the parish back.

    JOHN HAMILTON: What I saw from the federal government was a grand total of three boats, Border Patrol agents on three boats: two airboats and one flat-bottom boat. And I saw far more of a response from citizens who had just taken it upon themselves to go and pluck people out of their homes. And they plucked about a dozen out on Saturday.

    FLOYD SIMEON: We don’t have any government response here. Everything that’s taken place has taken place by volunteers and citizens in the area. Why aren’t there fifty inflatable boats in the water working a grid, making sure all these people are out of here? Why is it just volunteers? That’s the only people you see around.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: FEMA Director Mike Brown is in charge of all federal response and recovery efforts in the field.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!

    REPORTER: Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has called for your resignation, and I’m wondering if you have a response to that?

    MICHAEL BROWN: The President’s in charge of that, not me.

    MALIK RAHIM: Now, his body been here for almost two weeks. Two weeks tomorrow. All right. That this man’s body been laying here. And there’s no reason for it. Look where we at. I mean, it’s not flooded. There’s no reason for them to be done left that body right here like this. I mean, that’s just totally disrespect.

ANJALI KAMAT: New Orleans community organizer Malik Rahim. Excerpts of Democracy Now!’s coverage as the catastrophe unfolded in New Orleans five years ago.

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Community & Resistance After Katrina: Jordan Flaherty and Tracie Washington on the Fight to Save New Orleans

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