Dispatches from New Orleans #1

There's a lot of accounts appearing online, from relief workers in New Orleans. I've received a few that have been cleared for posting. This came a few days ago, from a friend with a connection to an FDNY unit. It's from a blackberry, I think. I reformatted it a little:

8/30 I'm leaving this afternoon for New Orleans (or Missisippi, we're not sure whch) with my rescue crew. Apparently, things are VERY bad there. The New Orleans FD sent guys to help after 9/11, and we're sort of returning the favor.

8/30 I'm at the airport. We're going to New Orleans. FEMA says we'll be doing "vertical rescue", which means pulling people off roofs. And that we will probably be needed for......well, let's not think about that just now.

9/1 Haiti doesn't begin to be a metaphor. Hades is much closer. I'm not sure what the news is showing - we're virtually cut off from everything, including our command structure. We're completely on our own, just trying to do what we can and avoiding the maniacs as best we can. I'm not even sure if you'll get this. I'm trying to decide when to pull my guys out of here, because it's just too dangerous to stay. .

I have a hundred stories to tell you, and a hundred more I'll never be able to tell anyone. I've done this work for so long, but I never imagined any horror like this. And there's no end to it.

9/2 Morning. Thank God. We got a couple of hours of sleep in a looted store, figuring that nobody would bother it because there's nothing left in there to take. We're close to the French Quarter, where it's a little quieter. We've been advised to stay away from the convention center area, because things there have devolved to complete chaos. We came across a woman yesterday who was coming from there........you'll need to tell me how much of this you want to hear. It's beyond horrible. Telling the stories seems almost pornographic.

But there are good stories, too. Stories of amazing courage. We took a family off a roof - 4 kids and the mother, and there wasn't going to be room for the father. The woman didn't want to go, wanted to wait until somebody came with a bigger boat. The father whispered in my ear, "Go. Now. ". I looked at him, and he looked at me, both of us knowing that nobody else was probably going to show up. The NO cops talk about the "animals" they're trying to control. But here was this guy, probably one of the bravest guys I've ever seen. He had been on that roof for 4 days, and now he was going to be alone. I hope they're telling those stories on the news.

9/2 I don't know about the psychological and societal root causes of what's going on here. But I can tell you that the two overriding emotions I see are:

- terror. Lots of people are thinking they're going to die here. And lots of them are probably right.

- a sense that all rules have been dispensed with I saw a smaller version of this on 9-11, but this is on a far grander scale. This is Hobbesian in its magnitude.

I've become a looter myself, technically. In an effort to conserve our dwindling supply of MREs, we've been breaking into houses for canned food. I suspect we're being a little gentler than our looter brethren, and we try to secure the doors when we leave, but it's almost silly. Nobody's coming back to these houses for a long, long time.

We've also become an armed band. One of my guys "found" a shotgun. I didn't ask him where, but I feel better that he has it. I've fallen back on infantry tactics for travelling down the streets - stay close to the walls, don't bunch up - because there's lots of random gunfire. The good news is that there's a lot more National Guard around today, so maybe things will begin to stabilize.

I do need to tell you some of the stories.

There was a woman walking down the street carrying two plastic bags. She looked to be in shock, so we stopped her to see if we could treat her. She had two dead babies in the bags.

We didn't find out if they were her children. She was a 3 on the responsiveness scale (which goes 1-5) and wandered off before we got much out of her. There are a lot of walking dead here. In a lot of ways, they're the creepiest of all.

We walked around the corner and into a shootout between two cops and a guy carrying a rifle. One of the cops shot the guy in the head. And they got in their car and drove away.

We rescued a mom and two kids who had been on a roof since Tuesday with no food, no water and the body of their grandmother. How does a kid have a normal life after that? What kind of awfulness is being bred here?

And one more:

An old black guy had stayed in his barbershop all week, trying to protect it. As we went by, he came out and said "you boys need a shave." So I sat in a chair on Poydras Street while he shaved me with a brush, straightrazor and filthy water. I'm not sure which one of us felt better.

9/2 Just coordinated with a Nat Guard lieutenant ("New York??? " He said.). He said they're estimating 50,000 might still be trapped.

Things appear to be coming together, or maybe it's just that there are more personnel coming into the city, or maybe I'm just getting used to it. There are fires everywhere, and the FD can't do anything, because they have no water. Last night we were helping an engine company try to contain a huge fire, and all they had was the 700 gallons in their tank. The officer was in tears. It's those kinds of things that have affected me the most - people trying to do what they've always done in the midst of this horror. I saw a woman who was hanging clothes on a clothesline to dry.

We've connected with a NG unit, and they're going to use us as technical experts for rescues. I'm sending each of my guys with a squad of soldiers. I don't like breaking us up like that, but we'll give it a try.

And maybe I can get back to my regular role of being a boss, sitting down while somebody else does the work. I'm getting too old for this climbing stuff.

I think we'll be leaving Monday, if we can get out. We came as a "Rapid Response Team", and we were supposed to leave after 48 hours. But nothing's working like it's supposed to.