TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: "I Love You, But We Are Going to Die"

"I Love You, But We Are Going to Die"

Scott Gold (
Tue, 30 Aug 2005 15:20:44 -0500

By Scott Gold, Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS - The phone call lasted just long enough to break Bridgette
Medley's heart.

Medley, her husband and her 3-year-old daughter had sought shelter
from Hurricane Katrina at a downtown hotel. Water seeped through the
ceiling and wind made the building shudder as they slept on the hard
floor of a ballroom. But they were safe.

Her siblings and parents were not.

Like about 50,000 other residents of the city, they had ignored the
mayor's mandatory evacuation order and elected to ride out the storm
at the family home in the Eighth Ward, a neighborhood of shotgun
houses, railroad tracks and industrial canals on the city's east side.

By 7 a.m. Monday, the water started rising. Medley's siblings and
parents pulled down the stairs to the attic and climbed up. At 7:57
a.m., Medley's 48-year-old sister, Stephany Johnson, managed to get
through on her cellphone.

"She was panicking," Medley said. "The water was up to their ankles in
the house and rising fast -- in a house that is 5 feet off the ground
to start.

"She said, 'I love you.' " Medley struggled to keep the tears from spilling
out. "And then she said, 'We're going to die.' "

Then the line went dead.

Throughout the day, the two sisters maintained a frantic, frustrating
conversation in spurts and stops.

Hundreds of families found themselves in a similar situation, divided
by choice, chance and fate. Authorities said that by nightfall, 200
people in the city were stranded on rooftops, and more were trapped in
attics awaiting rescue. Scores more in surrounding towns were in
similar straits.

People sought help from one of the only radio stations on the air:
WWL. They called to explain how their friend or relative got trapped
in the attic or on the roof, then provided addresses and cross streets
in case rescuers were listening.

"Please, sir. We don't know what else to do," said a woman who gave
her name as Betty. "It's my sister. They're stuck on the roof. And her
two kids are there."

"We'll see if we can't get some response over there," said the radio
host, Bob Del Giorno. "We can't guarantee."

Seconds later: "Let's go to Yvonne."

"My daughter is on the roof!" Yvonne said. "She was in the attic until
10 and then she broke through the roof and climbed up there."

"Maybe we can help," Del Giorno said. "Hopefully."

Others waited by the phone. There was nothing else they could do.

Patricia Penny had begged her son, Billy, 34, to leave. But he was
afraid to abandon his five cats and the dog he was watching for
friends, so he and his girlfriend stayed at their home on the east
side of New Orleans.

Penny last heard his voice in an 8 a.m. phone call. He was blunt:
"It's bad." An enormous magnolia tree had fallen over in the front
yard, and the storm had ripped a deck off the house. The water was
rising and it was too late to leave.

Penny said Monday night that she was sure her son had climbed onto the
roof (and cut a hole behind him for the animals to escape).

She eventually reached someone with St. Bernard Parish who was working
with emergency crews. The word was not good. The entire parish, he
told her, does not have a single fire engine or police car that still

"They are operating from on top of a building," she said. "They are
just going out in boats with a bullhorn trying to find people."

She was certain her son was alive, Penny said.

"I raised both my children myself," she said. "I know them so well
that when I think about one of them, they'll call me. It's true. I
know him that well. And I know that he is a survivor."

New Orleans is surrounded by water, and much of the city rests below
sea level in a bowl-shaped depression.

Even when the sun is shining, the city depends on a complex and often
fragile system of protective levees, as well as enormous pumps to
expel water that collects in the bowl.

The flooding was worse in the city's eastern districts. In the
neighborhood where Medley's father, a postal worker, and her mother, a
nurse, had raised four children in a single-story stucco house, the
water had nowhere to go, even hours after Katrina had passed.

Medley's family home is close to an industrial canal, and serious
storms had often brought water to the curb out front.

"But never inside," Medley said. "Never, ever."

That's why Medley's parents and two of her siblings elected to
stay. They knew that Katrina was big, Medley said. But how bad could
it be?

The last major hurricane to hit New Orleans directly was Hurricane
Betsy in 1965.

At 9 a.m., Medley was able to get through to her sister again. Now the
water was 3 feet deep in the house. There were two windows in the
attic, and if her relatives broke the windows and contorted their
bodies just right, they might be able to get to the roof, Medley
said. But her parents are frail and in their 70s, she said.

"That might work for my brother and sister," she said. "But I can't
imagine my parents making it out."

By noon, the water was 3 feet from the first-floor ceiling and still
rising. Medley had enlisted relatives in Texas and Georgia to call
the National Guard in hopes of getting a rescue party to the house.

"No luck," Medley said. "Not yet. All we can do is pray. There's just
so much water, and it's still raining hard."

She paused.

"I think . I mean, I think they're going to drown," she said. "I
really do."

At 3 p.m., she got through again.

"What is the water doing?" she asked. "Well, what do you see through
the window? Look out the window! What do you see when you look at
Mrs. Jones' house?"

The water, her sister reported, appeared to have stabilized -- not dropping,
but not rising anymore either.

"OK," Medley said. "That's good."

At 6 p.m., another call.

Her sister told her that she had reached a person. "A real, human
person," Medley said.

The National Guard was sending a boat. They were saved.

"Praise the Lord!" Medley shouted. "Hallelujah!"

The family had already made a pact for the next hurricane -- no more
splitting up.

"Everybody is leaving next time," Medley said. "More importantly,
everybody is leaving together."

How to help

Federal officials said Monday that people wanting to help victims of
Hurricane Katrina should not travel to the affected areas unless
directed to by an agency. Instead, Michael Brown, head of the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, urged people to contribute money to
organizations. FEMA listed the following agencies as needing monetary
donations to assist hurricane victims:

. American Red Cross, (800) HELP NOW [435-7669] English, (800) 257-7575

. Adventist Community Services, (800) 381-7171

. Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, (800) 848-5818

. Church World Service, (800) 297-1516

. Convoy of Hope, (417) 823-8998

. Mennonite Disaster Service, (717) 859-2210

. Salvation Army, (800) SAL-ARMY [725-2769]

. United Methodist Committee on Relief, (800) 554-8583

Source: Associated Press

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times

NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the
daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at . Hundreds of new
articles daily.

Post Followup Article Use your browser's quoting feature to quote article into reply
Go to Next message: Associated Press NewsWire: "Connecticut Man Sells Micrsoft Windows Source Code"
Go to Previous message: AFP Newswire: "Katrina Crisis Gets _Much_ Worse Each Day"
TELECOM Digest: Home Page