Reporters' Blog: Raw Accounts from the Front Lines of Katrina

ByABC News

Sept. 7, 2005 — -- ABC News reporters have fanned out across the Gulf Coast region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Here, in their own words, is what they are seeing and hearing.

Diane Sawyer

Sept. 7, 2005

Never in its 125 years has the Red Cross had this great a response to a natural disaster. It's helping more than 142,000 evacuees at nearly 400 shelters in 18 states. This week I found out what it's like to be with the Red Cross -- on the front lines.

Let's say you decide to come to the Gulf and volunteer. The first thing you do is sign papers -- it's called processing. Then you head over to the place where meals are served.

Five thousand people come through for lunch every day, hearing about this post through word of mouth. With the least amount of training, I start out as the pea server, wearing plastic gloves and a hairnet. Kevin Titus of the Red Cross said the food is brought in by the Red Cross itself, which buys as much of it as possible locally to feed money back into the community.

He then walks us along some of the goods that people have sent from around the country. All they can do is place them out to see if anyone needs them. They are doing all this in partnership with the local Baptist church, which cooks the food

If spaghetti and peas were lunch, then it's fried chicken and peas for dinner. These meals are then loaded into some 22 trucks, which make two trips a day serving about 250 meals. That's about 8,000 meals for people around the parish.

We drive around with Theodore, who sounds a signal. Slowly, gradually, the ones who are there emerge from their wrecked homes.

So many of them tell us what they are most anxious about is medicine -- asthma medicine for a wife, insulin medicine for a daughter. All we can do is direct them to the medical clinic at the Baptist church. So far, these people say they've seen nothing of FEMA and its medical services.

It's a giant area and a daunting task -- unless you are one of the legion of volunteers who believe every mission is possible.

Roger Sergel

ABC News' medical unit

Sept. 5, 2005

We are now getting reports of infectious diseases from patients coming from the Gulf:

A patient with TB, who came from the Astrodome, has been hospitalized at St. Luke's Hospital in Houston. TB is communicable like the flu, so who knows how many patients were exposed. They are now watching very carefully for patients who may have contracted TB.

There has been an outbreak of gastroenteritis in children at the Astrodome. This is also communicable. Ninety children have been seen within 36 hours with the illness. This is similar to the virus on cruise ships. If it is bacterial they, can treat with antibiotics.

In Biloxi, a doctor reports he has seen several cases of Vibrio vulnificus. This is caused by a combination of exposure to sea water and injuries, where sea water would get into cuts. It is not communicable. However, it is a 20 percent fatal illness that involves flesh-eating bacteria. The doctor in Biloxi reports he is now giving prophylactic antibiotics to anyone with a significant cut and scratch and exposure to sea water.

In addition, ABC News affiliate KTRK in Houston reports:

Seventy children at Texas Children's Hospital have tested positive for diarrhea-type issues. All have been isolated. They are concerned about two other issues: Tb and staph. The staph is of great concern because they are afraid a new strain may be imported into the area. There is a huge staph outbreak in the Houston area prior to the flood.

Dennis Powell

Rich EspositoSept. 5, 2005

Two senior-level state and federal sources say that the death toll could top 6,000. Both believe that the majority of deaths -- 80 to 90 percent -- were caused by a slow response from FEMA and Department of Homeland Security.

Barbara Pinto


Sept. 4, 2005

On Friday, we met Joy and Isadore Armond, a couple at the Astrodome, which is acting as a shelter for hurricane evacuees. They were desperate to find their premature infant son.

They had last seen the baby at University Medical Center in New Orleans the day before the storm. He was fragile, 3 lbs., and on oxygen. We aired their story and their baby's photo on "World News Tonight."

Joy called to tell me that someone at a Louisiana hospital saw the story, recognized the child, and put them in touch. Joy called me in tears to share the news.

The Armonds are searching for housing today and hope to travel to Louisiana to bring the baby home on Tuesday.

Ron Claiborne

New Orleans

Sept. 4, 2005

The National Guard Urban Rescue teams and police were out in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood looking for survivors still trapped inside their homes... and the bodies of those who couldn't, or wouldn't, leave.

There is a stench in the air. It is the smell of natural gas still leaking in this area, gasoline mixed in with the flood waters, and just a foul odor of the toxic brew that is the flood waters, which are up to two or three feet in this neighborhood. This was by far the hardest hit area in all of New Orleans.

While we were out, we saw a Coast Guard helicopter drop a rescuer onto the roof of a two-story brick apartment house. He chopped a hole to try to reach the man inside, but then decided it was too risky an operation. He asked us if we could take that man on our boat instead.

We brought our boat around to the rear entrance, and the man, Patrick Gentry, climbed aboard with a dog in his knapsack. He said he'd been inside his home -- unable to leave -- for the past six days.

"I have been standing on the roof waving white flags and white towels. I have seen helicopters but I don't think they have seen me," he said.

Gentry said National Guard troops came by on Monday during the storm and offered to evacuate him and his wife. But they wouldn't take Spikey, his puppy. His wife left, but he and Spikey rode out the storm together.

He said a downstairs neighbor also stayed -- and drowned.

David Muir

New Orleans

Sept. 3, 2005

Under the blistering sun, we saw hungry and thirsty refugees begin another day lining the sides of Interstate 10 in downtown New Orleans.

They've been without water and food. There's been gunfire, rapes and death -- with at least one corpse visible along the side of the road.

With her baby in her arms, Cassaundra Brooks, by the side of the road for four days, called it a nightmare.

Cassia Gammill described the anxiety.

"I don't know," she said. "We're just scared. We left a safe place -- because the Coast Guard told us we'd be taken out of town and dropped us off here."

While we were there, help finally arrived -- military helicopters. Families hurried to push wheelchairs and the sick to the front of the line. Evacuees were frisked before boarding the helicopters.

But the job was far from done. Another group of people gathered on the side of the interstate. They presumably would be next, but it looked to be a very long process: Farther down the road, there were still hundreds of refugees waiting to get out.

Jeffrey Kofman

New Orleans

Sept. 2, 2005

It was early Sunday afternoon. Just hours before the first rain bands of Hurricane Katrina would arrive. The humid Southern day had begun with perfect sunshine, but as the hours passed the sky was clouding over.

As we drove through the streets of New Orleans, signs of Katrina's arrival were everywhere. Quiet rows of boarded up houses; family cars being hurriedly packed by those who decided to join the exodus at the last possible minute; lines at gas station. We stopped to capture all of this for our story that would lead Sunday's "World News Tonight."

As we headed to the now-infamous levees for some final shots of the waters lapping against their banks, we passed through a poor black neighborhood. My eyes caught an image that seized my attention.

"We've got to stop and turn around," I said to cameraman Dan Holdren, who was behind the wheel. Next to a bus stop a frail elderly black woman sat in a wheelchair with a suitcase beside her. She looked as alone in the world as anyone I've ever seen.

In a heavy Southern drawl, Bobbi Sanchez told me she was waiting for a bus to take her to a shelter. "You're gonna die if you don't go," she told me, her glassy eyes looking directly at me. "It's true."

Another elderly woman walked over to greet us. Bobbi was not there alone. Her sister, Lois Bass, was accompanying her on this exodus. They were heeding the mayor's call to evacuate New Orleans. But like so many of the city's black people they did not have the means to drive out of town or pay for a bus ticket or rent a hotel room on their fixed incomes -- Bobbi lives on her disability benefit, Lois lives on Social Security. So they waited for the bus.

I have been thinking a lot about Bobbi and Lois these last few days. When I left them on Sunday I wished them safe passage and assumed they would be taken to the safety of the Superdome, New Orleans' shelter of last resort for those who simply couldn't afford to leave town.

Finally on Thursday the buses began to roll. Thousands of weary people began the journey to Texas and other neighboring streets. But thousands more are still waiting. Where are Bobbi and Lois? I hope they're somewhere in that sea of weary faces and someone is looking out for them.

David Kerley

Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Sept. 2, 2005

It's amazing the difference in the past day or two, what's happening out on the roadways. There are 18-wheelers everywhere bringing in supplies. How much is actually getting to the people depends on whether or not they can get to the distribution points and we have seen long lines this morning at some of those distribution points where they are handing out food, water and ice and anything else that's coming in.

Ron Claiborne

New Orleans

Sept. 2, 2005

In a number of interviews today, we were told repeatedly by people left homeless by the hurricane that there are, in effect, two "kinds" of looters: the opportunistic who are stealing for themselves and "good samaritans" who have taken food, water, clothing and distributed these supplies to those in need at places like the Convention Center.

This was a recurring theme in interviews we did … that in the absence of organized relief, looters have been taking care of large numbers of people … our producer got on camera a man who openly admitted that was what he was doing. Our crew first spotted him walking out of a store bearing packages of diapers and other items. He put them into his car, on the side of which he had spraypainted the word "AID" … He said he was taking the supplies to the Convention Center.

Alex Stone

New Orleans

Sept. 2, 2005

A fire is now burning out of control here downtown, smoke is billowing into the sky but firefighters can't battle it.

There is no water pressure, and when fire crews do respond people have been firing weapons at them. Rioters burned, looted and destroyed an entire mall complex yesterday and we have heard several explosions.

We are told they are likely at a chemical factory but police don't think they are harmful.

Alex Stone

New Orleans

Sept. 2, 2005

The need for help here is huge. There are babies inside the ICU at a nearby hospital. Eight thousand people are still at the Superdome, needing to be evacuated. And, bodies are on street corners.

One woman was staying at her home, but without food, now she wants out.

"They keep saying, 'go, go go, somewhere," she told me, "so we're gonna do what's best and go right now instead of waiting for later."

"Where will you go?" I asked her.

"Who knows what they're gonna do to us next?" she replied.

In the downtown area there is still no sign of the military. It's heavily armed local police.

Medical evacuation helicopters were grounded for a time this morning because they were being shot at.

Donna Renae


Sept. 2, 2005

The survivors who've been sitting on these buses are so tired, so shellshocked, some of them can barely speak.

However, they have been getting food and water -- in fact, so much of it, they're leaving leftovers in the Astrodome parking lot.

Although there have been reports of fights between refugees and authorities, in fact, most people seem content just to be anywhere safe and dry.

There is no more room at the inn. But still, the buses keep coming.

Fire marshals declared the Astrodome filled to capacity at just 8,000 people overnight. A few more thousand were allowed to squeeze in under protest. But still, that figure is far short of the 25,000 we were initially told would be welcome here.

So what's happening now is buses are rolling in. They're taking a break, and then they're hitting the road again -- bound for other cities and shelters.

David Muir

New Orleans

Sept. 2, 2005

It's incredible to think we're in Day Five after this hurricane and there are still patients in these hospitals. Charity Hospital, which is in this direction, behind the Superdome, a banner hanging from the hospital window -- it said "Stop the Lying and Get Us Out of Here."

They are desperate to get out -- it was the voice of desperation.

From inside New Orleans Charity Hospital on Thursday: "We have very little food to give our patients. We have approximately 200 patients left. We have had five deaths."

In the heart of a ravaged downtown, Charity Hospital, a hospital that has served the city for 250 years and is the main public health care facility, people have been without electricity, running water or sanitation for four brutal days.

Hundreds of patients, family members and health care workers are still trapped inside.

"We're working under horrendous conditions and dangerous conditions for our patients," says one health care official on the inside. "We have portable potties that are overflowing. We're working in the dark with just a flashlight. We need assistance in getting out as quickly as possible."

For Charity, the help has been too slow to come. "It's like we've been forgotten," says one. "I don't understand why the federal government has dragged its feet. Unthinkable."

Reports of snipers shooting at helicopters. "We can't get proper security to help our people evacuate the hospitals, we can't do it," says one official. "It's too risky."

But for one doctor, there can be no more waiting.

"We're doing Third World medicine," he said. "Even more desperate than that."

Another banner said simply the date -- yesterday, "9/1/05 -- We're Still Here."

David Muir

New Orleans

Sept. 2, 2005

Look up to the sky as the sun comes up here in New Orleans and you can see the thick black cloud over the city.

As we turn toward the east ward, looking beyond the French Quarter, you can see the contrast of this cloud, this plume of smoke up against the early morning sky.

It was a tremendous rumble. Many of us thought it was thunder, but the duration of the noise and the scope told us this was something much more.

Donna Renae


Sept. 2, 2005

It was chaos overnight as dozens of buses packed with weary hurricane survivors were told the Astrodome was maxed out and that they would have to go elsewhere.

That news sent some of them, who have not bathed in days, out into the streets to fend for themselves. Eventually some were allowed to camp out in the Reliant Center next to the Astrodome, where 11,000 people are currently being fed and sheltered.

Aaron Katersky

Biloxi, Miss.

Sept. 2, 2005

Supplies here are running short. Four days after Katrina struck, this is the first time I have seen a line here [at a relief center], or seen anywhere, where we are able to get anything, and I have been … we have been … looking for two days now.

The National Guard handed [this man] ice and water. He is grateful for that, but he is also hungry and people here are wondering why four days after the storm nobody has sent in food.

We are hearing stories of unthinkable looting here, but we are also hearing stories of good citizenship.

We met a woman who pulled into the lobby where we are staying -- just her and her baby trying to escape Louisiana. She was headed to Florida, ran short of gas, the baby was sick and she needed to get out of the sweltering conditions.

A guy offered, without hesitation, to fill her tank with some of his own reserves. He said: "I'm not passing up this blessing … a chance to help someone."

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