Hurricane Katrina and The Ambulance Driver
(August 29th, 2005)
1.) The Ambulance Driver
My dad worked for the oil company where he spent all his time on the rigs and I was born and raised in Houma Louisiana in a trailer located on the Bayou. Our mom spent all her time with us, my brother and I. She was always cooking and I will never forget her white beans and rice.
My brother and I would sit out on the Bayou and spend our time catfishing.
I graduated High School in Houma, finished my EMT at a local community college, and started driving ambulance.
After a few years, I got a job at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, in Leesville Louisiana, where I worked for five years as an Ambulance Driver and Paramedic.
I changed jobs early August of 2005 and moved to New Orleans to work as an Ambulance Driver for Tulane University Medical Center.
It was a good job and I lived closer to my Mom’s trailer in Houma. I got along with the staff and made friends quickly, the whole change in location seemed natural to me.
2.) The Storm
The storm started a week prior and rain had not stopped. Hurricane Katrina hit the coast and certain areas of New Orleans had been told to evacuate.
I had been through a few tropical storms in my day and besides if the storm got worse we needed Ambulances to pick up any patients in need of help so I decided to stay.
On the morning of August 29th at around 06:00, I checked the inventory of my Ambulance with my partner Tony. A routine I followed at the beginning of all my shifts and I took pride in being ready for anything.
The morning seemed slow for some reason and I wondered why the calls were not pouring in as I sat and read a book next to the radio.
Finally, around 10:00 I got a call from our Operator.
The operator told me that a jumbled call arrived from the Super Dome and that we should take our Ambulance out there to see. I quickly grabbed my Walkie Talkie and ran out the door with my keys.
Tony, my partner, stood outside trying to smoke a cigarette in the rain and I told him we needed to go. He ran with me as we jumped into the Ambulance and hit the road.
I pulled out of the Tulane University Medical Center ER parking lot and headed towards the Super Dome.
The rain outside pelted my window and made visibility difficult so I drove slowly through the inch or two of water that had collected on the road.
For some odd reason, there was no one on the road and I figured that an evacuation had taken place.
I hit my lights and ran through a few stop signs as I turned onto Dauphine Street towards the dome.
It was our habit not to stop at stop signs near the French Quarter because this area was considered one of the most violent areas in the country and I didn’t feel like getting my Ambulance jacked.
3.) The Hurricane
Tony sat in the passenger seat staring out into the rain.
“It usually is pretty windy during these storms,” I said to Tony as he stared off.
“Oh, I have a bad feeling about this John.” He looked over at me as we drove through another stop sign towards the Super Dome.
I looked down at my watch, 11:00, seven more hours until the end of my shift.
“Oh, Shit!” I screamed, as I looked through my rearview mirror and saw a wave of water racing towards us from behind. The water seemed to swallow everything in its path. Vehicles disappeared.
Within seconds the water had lifted the Ambulance high into the air and flipped it on its side. Our gear crashed, in the back, and saw Tony hit his head on the window.
I felt for my seat belt and hit the latch right before the world turned black.
When I woke up I was being pressed against the roof of the driver’s side.
I could barely reach my mouth up to air located in small pockets above my head and turned towards Tony. His door ajar and his seat empty, I checked to see if I could reach his door.
I swam out towards a light above and reached the surface in a daze. The rear of the Ambulance was jutting out of the water. Tony was gone.
All around me were half-covered buildings and me dog-paddling in the middle of what used to be a street. The water was cold and I felt the weight of my boots and my uniform as it pulled me down.
I struggled to remove my boots under the water and let them fall into the murk.
4.) Gun Fire on Dauphine Street
I looked around, trying to navigate, but I could not see any road signs.
The buildings to my right and left were old apartment houses. Water was almost up to most of the second-floor balconies and I did not see or hear anyone.
After a few minutes of dog-paddling, I figured I ought to find a plan of action.
I could find higher ground the closer I moved towards the Super Dome.
Breaststroke conserved my energy as I concentrated on the water in front of me and not the buildings to my side.
After what seemed to be an hour I looked down at my watch and noticed it was broken. I pulled my broken Walkie Talkie out of its holster and threw it in the water.
“Help!” I screamed as loud as I could. “Help!”
I heard a crack from above, probably a rooftop, and heard a whirring sound and a small splash.
What was going on? A bullet! Someone was shooting at me.
Another bullet splashed near my right arm.
“Wait! I am a Paramedic! Stop shooting!” I screamed up at the rooftops.
I heard another bullet hit near my head this time and I swam as fast as I could but the bullets kept flying into the water at my sides.
“Underwater!” I thought as I dove and started to swim deeper and deeper into the murk.
Something rough, like pavement, touched my fingertips and I felt around to try to figure out where I was going. I felt more pavement and started to push myself along the underwater road. My lungs hurt and I knew I had to go up soon for air.
At that moment I noticed a movement in front of me that I thought was a fish. Then within seconds, a bloated grey face was directly in front of me. I screamed and felt myself begin to float upwards.
Soon I only knew darkness.
4.) A Dream While Dying
I drove an Ambulance and it seemed like one of the Ambulances I drove at BJACH.
What was going on?
I am not drowning near the French Quarter?
Why am I driving an Ambulance without a partner?
Through my confusion, I noticed the night. I could hardly see the trees on the side of the road through the ink blackness.
My radio worked and tried to call into dispatch. At first, there was nothing but static then finally a female voice I did not recognize began to speak.
“Good evening John. I need you to answer a frantic mother who called from 445 Hwy 88. Hurry John, it sounds urgent something about a baby.” She said and then the call ended with nothing but static.
Down the road noticed a few mailboxes and slowed down to read the addresses.
The first box read 425 so I still had a few miles to go and I centered my attention onto the asphalt and tried to clear my head of this odd situation.
Soon I reached the dirt road with the 445 mailbox and I turned off the pavement and into the darkness. After about half a mile of Mimosa trees and Willows, I saw a small trailer that looked a lot like my parents’ trailer in Houma.
I pulled the Ambulance up to the front of the trailer and reached into the back for my gear and then hurried to the front door lit up by my headlights.
All the lights in the trailer were on but there was no noise and when I knocked a sound seemed to echo from a deep abyss.
I knocked a second time.
Suddenly the door opened and a woman whose face was disfigured in agony held a bundle of towels in her arms. She looked up at me through her bloodshot eyes and threw the bundle at me.
I caught it and looked down to see a naked blue baby dripping water obviously not breathing.
“Save my baby! Save my baby!” She moved her face directly in front of mine and screamed.
5.) The Sunshine of Another Day
I woke up huddled in a doorway of an old apartment building.
The water must have receded a little and I could hardly open my eyes.
No one was around there were no sounds just miles of water and city blocks.
“I am going to be OK. I am going to make it.” I whispered to myself and decided that I needed to close my eyes just for a few more minutes.