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Under the headline, "Cops trapped survivors in New Orleans," Shaun Waterman writes for the UPI news wire. His article documents the City of Gretna Police (Gretna is across the river from downtown) shutting down the primary dry exit from the flooded city to foot traffic.

More below fold...

In defence of the decision, UPI reports that Police Chief Andrew Lawson said that the city was "a closed and secure location." He was worried that the survivors might harm his city. He is now bragging about how it escaped looting.

This article is not being published by any major news source online, however, after finding it printed at a website called "Monsters and," I subsequently found it on Lexis Nexis (one of the nice things about being a college student). It is indeed a real UPI wire story. I am shocked that I has not been picked up. It is pretty damning. I am going to quote the entire story below since it is not otherwise posted in any accessible way online. If you would like me to have Lexis Nexis email you the article directly, I can do that. Just leave your email in a comment (for those who don't know, Lexis Nexis is the primary online academic database of printed media).

Here's the story:

"September 9, 2005 Friday 10:48 AM EST

LENGTH: 804 words

HEADLINE: Cops trapped survivors in New Orleans




Police from surrounding jurisdictions shut down several access points to one of the only ways out of New Orleans last week, effectively trapping victims of Hurricane Katrina in the flooded and devastated city.

An eyewitness account from two San Francisco paramedics posted on an internet site for Emergency Medical Services specialists says, "Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the city on foot."

"We shut down the bridge," Arthur Lawson, chief of the City of Gretna Police Department, confirmed to United Press International, adding that his jurisdiction had been "a closed and secure location" since before the storm hit.

"All our people had evacuated and we locked the city down," he said.

The bridge in question -- the Crescent City Connection -- is the major artery heading west out of New Orleans across the Mississippi River.

Lawson said that once the storm itself had passed Monday, police from Gretna City, Jefferson Parrish and the Louisiana State Crescent City Connection Police Department closed to foot traffic the three access points to the bridge closest to the West Bank of the river.

He added that the small town, which he called "a bedroom community" for the city of New Orleans, would have been overwhelmed by the influx.

"There was no food, water or shelter" in Gretna City, Lawson said. "We did not have the wherewithal to deal with these people.

"If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged."

But -- in an example of the chaos that continued to beset survivors of the storm long after it had passed -- even as Lawson's men were closing the bridge, authorities in New Orleans were telling people that it was only way out of the city.

"The only way people can leave the city of New Orleans is to get on (the) Crescent City Connection ... authorities said," reads a Tuesday morning posting on the Web site of the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, which kept reporting through the storm and the ruinous flooding that followed.

Similar announcements appeared on the Web site of local radio station WDSU and other local news sources.

"Evidently, someone on the ground (in New Orleans) was telling people there was transport here, or food or shelter," said Lawson. "There wasn't."

"We were not contacted by anyone" about the instructions being given to survivors to use the bridge to get out of town, he said.

The two paramedics, who were trapped in the city while attending a convention, joined a group of people who had been turned out by the hotels that they were staying in on Wednesday. When the group attempted to get to the Superdome -- designated by city authorities as a shelter for those unable to evacuate -- they were turned away by the National Guard.

"Quite naturally, we asked ... 'What was our alternative?' The guards told us that that was our problem, and no, they did not have extra water to give to us.

"This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile law enforcement."

As they made their way to the bridge in order to leave the city "armed Gretna sheriffs (sic) formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads."

Members of the group nonetheless approached the police lines, and "questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge ... They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City.

"These were code words," the paramedics wrote, "for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans."

The authors say that during the course of that day, they saw "other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated."

Efforts to contact the authors of the Internet posting were unsuccessful, but UPI was able to confirm that individuals with their names are employed as paramedics in San Francisco.

Lawson says that his officers "acted in the manner they were instructed to" and defends the order to close the bridge as "the right decision."

He said that in addition to his security concerns, an unmoored vessel on the river "raised the threat that it might crash into and breach the levee, which would have flooded Gretna."

He says that his officers did assist about 4000 people who "arrived at the doorstep of (Gretna City)" either by crossing the bridge before it was closed or approaching from another route.

"We commandeered public transit buses and we took them to higher and safer ground" at the junction of Interstate-10 and Causeway Boulevard where "there was food and shelter," he said.

LOAD-DATE: September 9, 2005"

Originally posted to WesternDem on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 05:34 PM PDT.


Have you seen this story anywhere?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Post the link (none)

    Pretzels for the Preznit! Send a bag of your favorite pretzels to the President and tell him to eat a giant handful all at once!

    by Bob Johnson on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 05:29:14 PM PDT

  •  Listening to the same story (none)
    on "This American Life" from a tourist, an San Franciscan EMT attending a conference. Praising the "looters" who brought them water, and telling about the Gretna sheriffs threatening to shoot them as they tried to escape on foot.
  •  saw it this morning. (none)

    On some online source. Not too obscure but I don't remember which one it was.

    I heard the rumor reports days ago.

  •  part of this was diaried a couple days ago on dkos (none)
    but yours is by far more complete.

    I'm gonna buy a gun and start a war, if you could tell me something worth fighting for.-----Coldplay

    by CO4Kerry2004 on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 05:35:24 PM PDT

  •  Moonie news wire? (none)


    Mitch Gore

    Nobody will change America for you, you have to work to make it happen

    by Lestatdelc on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 05:38:07 PM PDT

  •  email/call Gretna's Mayor/Cops and (none)
    Scream bloody murder. Alert the rest of the media, NOW.
  •  I saw this (none)
    at freerepublic.  I couldn't find it anywhere else, nor could I find a reference to it in any other story.

    Its hard for me to accept this.  I really didn't want to believe it.

    He could have saved some lives, but he chose to condemn those poor souls.

    He's a public servant.  He should be investigated and removed from office.

    Have you ever heard the sound of a mother screaming for her son?...Carley Sheehan

    by nupstateny on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 05:41:26 PM PDT

  •  Jesus H. Christ (none)
    From the stories of people camped out on the highway you almost knew it had to be true...

    Stray dogs in this country get much better treatment than "these people".

    What a dark day to be an American - I'm so ashamed.

    •  There was a diary on Daily KOS about this (none)
      posted or relayed from two tourists.    I can't recall who posted it, but the tale was along the lines of some tourists in a hotel were told a bus would come to pick them up.   The bus never came.   They were told by the police to go somewhere for the bus.   It never came.   Eventually, they decided they would walk out of the city.    When they tried, they were stopped by the police, so they hung out on the freeway waiting for help.     It was pretty pathetic story.    The way it was written, it sounded to me like the Gretna police didn't want all those poor, black New Orleans residents crossing over into their city.
  •  Sounds like Medals of Freedom all 'round... (none)


    "Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Effort, Concentration, and Wisdom"

    by Dood Abides on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 05:42:24 PM PDT

  •  If we can get some additional info (none)
    This could be big. It should turn up somewhere if it's on the UPI feed. A link for now would be good.
  •  Geraldo and Shepard Smith on Faux News (none)
    Both reported on this when it was happening.  It's part of the reason they were both so pissed off last week.  

    Use American taxpayers' money to rebuild our country - not Iraq.

    by Sharon Jumper on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 05:43:40 PM PDT

    •  Here's the story - Sept 2 (none)
      Freepers were trashing them big time last week.  

      Sobbing Geraldo:
      Let the people go!
      Rivera, Shep Smith make emotional pleas as survivors 'trapped' at convention center

      Emotions are running high in the aftermath of catastrophic Hurricane Katrina, not only among the survivors, but also among the media covering the New Orleans Convention Center, considered ground zero for post-storm squalor and mayhem.

      Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera was filled with tears in his eyes and his voice fluttered with sorrow as he made an on-air plea to authorities to allow the estimated 30,000 storm victims at the center to be allowed to move to a safer, cleaner area.

      "Let them walk out of here, let them walk the hell out of here!" Rivera sobbed. "Walk to some other town. Walk someplace where you can help 'em. ... These people in the same clothes, where do you think they go to the bathroom? They don't wash their hands, they don't wash their face, these babies. What the hell?"

      Rivera made his intense plea on Fox's "Hannity & Colmes" program, at one point holding a young child in his arms on camera.

      "There are so many babies here," Rivera said. "Take a look, I want everyone in the world to see. ... Look in the face of the baby. ... People [are] suffering, let them go! ... Let them walk over this damn interstate and let them out of here!"

      In the same program from another location, Fox's Shepard Smith explained in a excited negative tone that authorities were preventing survivors from leaving the area.

      "[Authorities] have set up a checkpoint at the bottom of this bridge," Smith said, noting the structure was the gateway to other parishes where the quality of life was better. "Anyone who walks up out of that city is turned around."

      Smith summed up in an urgent tone the thoughts of the survivors seeking to leave the convention center, exclaiming, "Over there, there's hope, over there, there's electricity, over there, there's food and water. But you cannot go from there to there. The government will not allow you to do it. It's a fact..."

      "...People have been raped and murdered in here," Darlene Joseph, the mother of a 4-year-old boy told USA Today. "There are bodies in the kitchen, babies [teenagers] who had their throats slashed. One is in the cooler."

      Earlier in the evening, during an interview with Fox's Bill O'Reilly, Rivera was worried about the potential for even more violence at the center which he termed "hell on Earth," saying the situation was "going to blow" when darkness arrived.

      "You should see it, [Geraldo is] running around like a chicken with his head cut off," said one Fox watcher in Kirkland, Wash. "Fox News needs to pull his reports now! The man is trying to start a riot. I have never seen anything so irresponsible."

      "I turned it off. It was ridiculous," said another viewer. "The people there seemed well-mannered, particularly considering the length of their ordeal. But Geraldo seemed like he needed a slap across the chin like a frightened heroine in an old-time western. Get a grip Geraldo. If you want to play in the adult world, act like an adult."

      But another in an online messageboard defended Rivera's emotion in his reporting, stating, "It is that bad there and it is being glossed over. ... We are not as excited as we should be about this travesty occurring in our own country. Why is that? Why are the cable news networks showing commercials? They went at least a week without them and went round-the-clock after 9-11. This is far worse!"

      Use American taxpayers' money to rebuild our country - not Iraq.

      by Sharon Jumper on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 05:54:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Basically... (none)
    ...the police there decided it was more important to protect property from the black folks than it was to actually help survivors escape a terrible situation.

    This sort of thing has happened before. In 1992 during the LA riot, the LAPD preferred to protect the wealthy areas of the city and more or less left the nonwhite areas to burn.

    It's sickening, but it's a symptom of America's horribly misplaced priorities. The people who were responsible for that situation deserve to lose their jobs and be prosecuted for...uh...something or other.

    I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

    by eugene on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 05:44:59 PM PDT

  •  It was reported on WWL's streaming video (none)
    There was also a similar report about Plaquemines Parish officials blocking evacuees.
  •  I posted this above, but it was a little buried... (none)
    Thanks for the MSNBC link. He was reading the same article I was, but he has a link that is postable, so here it is...

    Looks like the Washington Times prints UPI stories.

    Also, check out the aerial photo link at google maps:

  •  Diaried and tentatively sourced 9/06/2005 (none)

    The sourcing connections are in the comments.

  •  Outrageous. (none)
    There have been several diaries about this in the last few days but they have dropped off the board without a whole lot of attention.  Here's one link which connects back to two others.

    I'm probably more angry about this than anything else in the whole Katrina disaster.  Bush, Brown and all those guys were lazy, neglectful, stupid, a whole lot of things, but to me, this was absolutly intentional and malicious.  I hope everybody stopped at the bridge sues the Gretna Sheriffs for civil rights violations and bankrupts the parish.

    The Bush White House: Where being right gets you fired and being wrong gets you the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    by Tod on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 05:53:33 PM PDT

    •  Here's what I can't figure out. (none)
      Monday, immediately after the storm, if National Guard had been available to enter the city (and not in IRAQ, GODDAMNIT) they could have easily entered the city for purposes of getting food and succor to the people holed up in the shelters, assess the situation and begin either evacuating, if needed or improving the shelters in place.

      Had their been Nat Guard, the looters would have been thwarted and local police would have had to acquiesce to their presence, or at least allowed them to escort evacuees through their parishes.

      No national guard presence is very key to this situation getting out of control.  New Mexico offered its Guard.  I don't know if Blanco just refused or if they simply couldn't be deployed in time.

      •  Right you are. (none)
        That's why the Bush administration delay caused so much damage.  Getting there a day or two earlier makes a huge difference.  Now that the calvary has finally arrived Bush is pretending that when they arrived doesn't really matter but he's wrong.

        When the dust has settled I'd love to see a really thorough investigation of all the aid that was offered, who exactly turned it down, and why.  I'd also like to see every officious nitwit who turned down aid for stupid reasons fired.

        Unions have a concept of "working to the rule" when they want to in effect strike but not really.  They show up at work, but strictly follow every nit picking rule they can find.  The intended result is that work comes to a screeching halt.  Sometimes I look at the red tape here and start to wonder whether it could really be just that many people who were that out of touch with the big picture.

        The Bush White House: Where being right gets you fired and being wrong gets you the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

        by Tod on Fri Sep 09, 2005 at 09:06:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  poll needs a choice that says (none)
    yes, on dailyKos, multiple times.

    I also got an email about it from some people who are distantly connected to the paramedics mentioned.

    it's an important story though.

  •  I saw this (none)
    I heard someone on CNN talking about this and then I read similar accounts in various places online.  I'm appalled at the reports of the police shooting at the survivors.  It's digusting how all this played out.
  •  also in SF Chronicle column today (none)
    by Chip Johnson, "Police made their storm misery worse."

    The two San Francisco paramedics are shop stewards for Paramedic Chapter, SEIU Local 790.

    in the UK Guardian yesterday, too., The Socialist Worker, Counterpunch.

  •  Shitbag Limbaugh (none)
    was quoting this story from UPI as he went to break this A.M. He was using it as a way of restating the talking point that local officials are to blame for everything.
  •  This is appalling. And they're openly admitting (none)
    it, which will help with the lawsuits later.

    They are sworn to protect the safety of people.  They needed to allow people to evacuate New Orleans.

    They should be absolutely ashamed of themselves and the story needs to be brought to the attention of all the major media outlets.

    I had read the story of the paramedics and was appalled.

  •  Racist: (none)
    In defence of the decision, UPI reports that Police Chief Andrew Lawson said that the city was "a closed and secure location." He was worried that the survivors might harm his city. He is now bragging about how it escaped looting.

    And Bush did nothing to dispell this stereotype about Blacks. He does not have a clue when it comes to race relations in this country. He thinks that if you just hire a few Blacks, everything will be just fine.

  •  Gretna--Jefferson Parish??? (none)
    Is Gretna City part of Jefferson Parish, or did I misunderstand?  The Parish in which Aaron Broussard presides/is President?  I'd be interested to hear his take on all of this....  Given his emotional testimony last Sunday on MTP, it WOULD SEEM as though this story would all-too-conveniently be used by the right-wing-types to deflect the shitstorm howling around FEMA/BushCo./et al....  (All hands on deck!  Incoming!)

    ALTHOUGH, with the events here having unfolded as they're reported by these EMTs, then it actually supports Broussard's contention that FEMA had cut the communication lines--it doesn't seem likely that the actions of the Gretna law enforcement would be condoned by the parish president, and the emergency management guy (whose mother drowned in that nursing home on Friday), tasked with the coordination of these life-and-death situations, as well as the more mundane administrative matters attendant to the position.  The best defense of these Gretna SOBs seems to be that they "didn't know" that the people desperate to get out of NOLA were being told to hoof it over the only dry bridge in the area, which happened to lie within their turf.  If they didn't know, why not?  If not total communication breakdown, then what's left?  Gross insubordination?  Pure evil?

    There's NO EXCUSE for their reckless and callous disregard for the lives of their fellow human beings under these times of extreme duress, so the mechanical inability to communicate with each other does not absolve them of guilt.

    Forgive my lack of knowlege of how all of these administrative units work with each other (or not), and I've never been to NOLA--so I don't know the "lay of the land."  But I can't help but think that Mr. Broussard may offer some interesting details here, the kind of stuff that may very effectively counter the Rovian Spin Machine working overtime (and on overdrive) lately, and render the closest thing to the truth we're ever likely to get....

    •  Jefferson Parish is huge. (none)
      Gretna is closest to New Orleans, just on the other side of the Mississippi. That's the location of the bridge everyone is talking about.
      Kenner is to the west of Gretna on the other side of Harvey Canal.  Those are the two largest cities.


      Most people know Jefferson Parish (county) as a bedroom community just west of New Orleans. While the East Bank of Jefferson Parish is home for many commuters, the West Bank, located south of the river across from New Orleans, is much more industrial in nature. Still further south are the fishing communities that make their living from Barataria Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The rebounding oil industry, the rise of tourism and retail centers help make the parish an ideal home for this diverse population.  

      While most of the population of Jefferson Parish is situated along the river, the parish stretches from Lake Pontchartrain on the north end all the way to the Gulf of Mexico at Grand Isle. The Mississippi River delta-building process, which deposited rich alluvial sediment in the Gulf, created the natural levees, hardwood swamps, open marshes, lakes, bayous, and barrier islands that are Jefferson's unique geological features.

      There was some cause for concern.  Harvey Canal runs right through Gretna and the surrounding area is only about 5-6 feet above sea level.  Other areas are around 10 ft.

      It is unclear to me how much damage is in Jefferson.  They allowed folks to return last weekend. But then again, their school system has relocated north to Baton Rouge.  So there must have been some damage.

  •  Link... Finally (none)
    If anyone is still reading this, I emailed UPI and was contacted by Shaun Waterman, the reporter who wrote the story.
    He gave me the link, so here it is:

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