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Harrowing story of life in my apt building during and after Katrina...unreal.

Discussion in 'Louisiana' started by JSinNOLA, Sep 12, 2005.

  1. JSinNOLA

    JSinNOLA F1 World Champ
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    Mar 18, 2002
    15,077
    Denver, CO
    Full Name:
    John
    BTW folks, this is LONG. VERY LONG. But quite amazing. I owe this band of holdout lunatics a HUGE thank you when I return to New Orleans...
    --------------------------------------------------------------
    To: All FFM Owners/Residents [Note: Some of the emails may not be
    current or
    operational because of the hurricane; the addresses were obtained from
    a
    front desk notebook and retyped into this email; updates may have
    occurred
    since the front desk notebook was prepared; FFM mangement will
    hopefully
    have access to the updated email list by the end of the coming week.]


    Well, it's been quite a saga...

    The communications were so disrupted by Katrina, that this is the first
    opportunity I've had to try to communicate to everyone where we stand
    at
    this time. Because so much has happened since (and before) the storm
    hit,
    this email will be quite lengthy. I and other Board members and
    management
    wanted to communicate sooner to you, but it was operationally
    impossible.

    I'm sending this from a friend's computer --- a true friend (Mr. Les
    Jensen)
    who has thankfully provided the shelter of his home in Baton Rouge to
    myself
    and my elderly parents who have special medical needs.

    I'll try to reconstruct from memory what has happened since the
    beginning....

    As you know, most of the FFM owners and residents evacuated prior to
    Katrina's arrival. I believe about 33 of us remained in the building
    to
    ride out the hurricane: myself, Joan Soule' (mother), Evan Soule', Sr.
    (father), Ramona Angelo (my friend), Stephen & Sue Champagne (plus
    two[?]
    family members), Mrs. Kruebbe, Mr. Kruebbe, Sr., Andrea Block, Edward
    Pankey, Jim Maclean, Beverly Parker, Monica Ferraro, Robert Trujillo,
    Esteban Marten, Tony Diers, Denise Diers, Eric, Lynn Forker, John
    Forker,
    Pat Fenerty, Andy Restivo (plus his daughter, son-in-law, daughter, and
    baby), Nikki Reyes and mom, Barbara Normand (and two [?]
    friends/relatives).
    (I apologize if I left anyone out -- the above list is from
    memory.)....
    plus cats, dogs, and birds.

    Our goal in remaining in the building was to try to keep it secure from
    wind/rain damage during the storm and to try to keep essential services
    going.

    The full fury of the hurricane began about 11pm, Sunday night, August
    28,
    2005. Myself and Stephen Champagne estimate that sustained winds were
    about
    125mph with gusts possibly up to 140-150mph. Fortunately, the FFM
    building
    was on the WESTERN side of Katrina's eyewall rather than on the EASTERN
    side
    of the eyewall where I heard that sustained winds were c. 150mph with
    gusts
    possibly in the 170mph range.

    However, despite those powerful winds impacting our building throughout
    the
    early morning hours of Monday, August 29m 2005, the building did not
    finally
    lose electricity until 5:30AM --- which I found amazing.

    The owners/residents of the 102-year-old FFM building should be very
    proud
    of our structure: during the height of the storm, one could stand in
    the 5th
    floor atrium area holding on to the railings in the atrium. One
    "survivor"
    told me that he could feel the building vibrate during the storm's fury
    and
    even feel a slight "sway" to the building. But, as the old saying
    goes, a
    "tree that bends will not break" --- similarly with our building. The
    building survived magnificently!

    Quick summary:

    We survived the hurricane's wind and rains in great shape.

    We were never flooded since the lake's floodwaters did not ever reach
    our
    area of the Warehouse District -- I believe the nearest the flood
    waters
    came to the FFM was several blocks north of Lee Circle.

    However, we were finally driven out by the looters. (more on that
    below)

    Yes, you should be very proud of our building and how well it was
    originally
    constructed in 1903. In fact, as one individual mentioned, "If
    anything,
    our building's PROVEN ability to survive such a storm should add to the
    value of the building for the future."

    Those who remained behind helped make many preparations around the
    property
    for the storm. Plants/pots were secured, loose furniture, etc. was
    secured
    in the Outback; Tony Diers, myself, Jim Maclean, and Edward Pankey
    helped to
    secure the front entrance -- installing the remaining plywood sheets
    over
    the main entrance, and then Tony had a great idea to cover/staple that
    front
    area with heavy visquine weighted down with large concrete pavers from
    the
    BBQ area to help keep out water from the lobby should it begin rising
    in the
    street. Tony's technique worked perfectly: not a single drop of water
    entered through the front area into the lobby.

    Damage observed around the building following the storm:

    About 3-5 very small wood window glass panes were observed to be broken
    --
    most, if not all, on the South Peters side. There was one large window
    with
    a large break that was a window attached to Unit 220.

    The major winds of the storm impacted the South Peters side of the
    building,
    the John Churchille Chase side of the building, and in SOME areas of
    the
    patio. The windows facing the patio did very well and the storm's
    impact
    was less until the storm moved north of the city and the principal
    winds hit
    the patio side instead of the street sides.

    There were about 10 very minor leaks in the 5th floor atrium area ---
    those
    leaks were quickly caught in buckets & visquine. Tony Diers was very
    resourceful in coming up with ways to capture the leaking water with
    "visquine tenting". One problem: the metal louvers associated with the
    fan
    exhaust (in the event of smoke) constantly opened & closed during the
    storm
    and may be damaged. Also: at the height of the storm when rainwater
    was
    literally being driven at 125+MPH horizontally, there was some water
    that
    came into some units around the cracks surrounding some of the wooden
    windows. Some water leaked in that manner down the bricks vertically
    between units. Where we found that happening, the water would only
    slowly
    run down the bricks and as soon as the wind died down it would stop.

    Structurally, the major damage to the building were the copper panels
    comprising the roof terrace parapet. Perhaps a dozen sections on all
    sides
    of the building were ripped off and the copper sheets were later found
    at
    the bottom of the swimming pool, and on surrounding streets. The large
    copper "S" on "MILLS" on the JCC streetside was ripped from the
    building --
    but we found that letter and placed it in the exercise building. Many
    of
    the metal floodlights around the street side of the building were
    either
    ripped off are torn and dangling against the building. When fallen,
    those
    were placed in the courtyard.

    The large green awning came partially loose and dangled against the
    building
    in the wind. That awning is still in the same position as of this
    writing.
    Interesting, the awning itself appears to be in good condition. The
    American Flag in the front is STILL attached and in good shape!

    The patio awning tore off on the streetside and about a 1/3 of that
    awning
    ripped back from the force of the winds. The awning supports appear to
    be
    intact. I watched from my patio window on the 4th floor the winds grab
    a
    corner of that awning and over the next 6 hours gradually peel it back.
    Most of the courtyard plants under that awning stayed intact and
    survived
    fine -- the main problem was the lack of water since that time.

    The rear driveway fence and driveway gate was bent about 20 degrees
    towards
    the street, but still remained upright. What is amazing is that the
    force
    of the winds actually ripped up two of the four bolts on the metal
    supports
    that comprise the curved black security fencing placed last year above
    the
    brick wall housing the side entrance gate between the main building and
    the
    exercise building and the entire gate now leans about 30 degrees from
    vertical into the street. That demonstrates the force of the winds
    coming
    through the "hollow" grills of that gate -- and bending it. But at
    least it
    held. It was important that that security gate remain --- especially
    given
    the subsequent looting (described below). Some have thought the
    looters
    tried to pull down that gate, but that was not actually the case. The
    gate
    was bent by the hurricane's winds.

    At one point during the height of the storm, the JCC side of the
    building
    was taking ferocious hits from the winds. Tony and Stephen would
    periodically make rounds of the building, especially checking in on
    those
    units who had residents remaining. Apparently Nikki (I apologize if
    I'm not
    correctly spelling your first name!) had a crisis at one point: her
    terrace
    door was blown open by the force of the winds and she was in danger of
    having everying sucked out of her unit and/or massive amounts of water
    damage from incoming wind-driven rains. She was literally holding on
    to the
    terrace doorknob with all of her strength to keep the door close
    although it
    would no longer lock! In in the midst of her crisis, she hears a knock
    on
    her front door from Tony and Stephen checking to see if everything was
    alright. She screams "HELP, HELP!!" and soon thereafter Tony/Stephen
    rigged
    up an emergency rope system that stretched across the upper floor of
    her
    unit in order to keep the door from blowing open during the storm.

    What I found an amazing credit to the strong construction of the FFM
    building is that during the height of the hurricane, if one was in the
    interior hallways or deep inside one's unit (towards the hallways), one
    would never even know that a ferocious hurricane was waging outside ...
    the
    building was that well insulated.

    The winds finally died down by about 10am, Monday morning, August 29,
    2005.
    Several of us (including Stephen & Sue Champagne) ventured out of the
    building about 11am. I walked down South Peters Street all the way to
    the
    Harrah's garage (where my vehicle was parked) to check out its
    condition.
    My parent's SUV was parked on the 2nd floor of the Hilton garage. All
    vehicles were in good condition. And I understand that the 15 or so
    vehicles
    parked in the FFM parking lot also fared fine. I then walked back up
    Convention Center Blvd. to the FFM.

    Damage I saw during my walk along South Peters & Convention Ctr. Blvd:
    some
    of the trees along the sidewalk were down. (All our pear trees in front
    of
    our building came through fine -- and our front park came through in
    great
    shape.) Some signage from area buildings was in the street along with
    lots
    of miscellaneous debris, including portions of what I believe were
    Hyatt
    sofas blown across town by the hurricane when c. 100 of that building's
    windows were blown out. An old brick warehouse next to Red Dog on South
    Peters collapsed and thousands of bricks were tossed into the street.
    But
    overall, the damage in the Warehouse District seemed minimal. And I
    did not
    see a SINGLE downed power line. There was extensive police/fireman
    presence
    in the Hilton Hotel loading area (we heard later that afternoon that a
    murder had occurred near Poydras and Magazine and that a policeman had
    been
    shot in the head by looters in the Superdome area. Apparently he was
    successful in shooting some looters before he was shot and remained in
    critical condition, last I heard.

    Once back at the FFM, the "survivors" began to organize and assess our
    condition. Because the damage to our building was relatively small and
    the
    infrastructure around the Warehouse District seemed basically intact,
    we
    believed at that time that it would be a matter of days -- perhaps two
    weeks
    at most -- before the FFM could be up and running normally. Little did
    we
    know what awaited us in the days to come....

    At 5:30am Monday morning when the building lost power from the city
    grid,
    our back-up large generator in the back driveway immediately came
    online.
    That provided essential electrical power to all hallway lights, all
    hallway
    plug outlets, and operated one of the front elevators. That generator
    ran
    continuously for 28 hours, from 5:30am Monday morning until about
    9:30am
    Tuesday morning. Because we could run extension cords from our
    refrigerators to the hallway plugs, we had residual refrigeration as
    long as
    the generator stayed on. That was also useful in the morning for
    making hot
    coffee.

    Stephen and Sue Champagne set up living conditions in the hallway
    atrium on
    the 5th floor in the event that the hurricane blew out their wooden
    windows
    facing South Peters. They also set up a much-appreciated "coffee
    station"
    outside their unit for other building "survivors". Edward Pankey (and
    others) also provided such coffee services in the 3rd floor hallway.

    An amazing sight...

    When Monday nighfall arrived, I and others walked up to the 5th floor
    terrace roof about 10pm. An amazing sight awaited us: for the first
    time
    in my 55+-years of living in New Orleans, I saw the Milky Way above our
    building ... not to mention thousands of stars not usually seen. The
    blackout of the city created a starry nightscape that had probably not
    been
    seen in the city for over a century. It was eerie to see the entire
    One
    Shell Square Building lightless. In fact, the entire cityscape of New
    Orleans was blacked out except for sporadic emergency lighting (which
    eventually gave out in most cases). I counted 3 shooting stars in 30
    minutes. Some of us stayed on the terrace roof late into the night
    because
    in the wake of the hurricane the air was clean, dry, and there was even
    a
    cool evening breeze. It was great experience to lie on the paver roof
    with
    the breeze and watch the stars...

    Communication failures...

    By Monday night, we realized that most communications were down. Cell
    phones with (504) prefixes were virtually useless. Other land lines
    were
    hampered by the absence of electricity. Curiously, my fax line still
    maintained communication with the outside world, but my regular phone
    line
    (on a different company server) became useless. Aside from my
    still-operational phone line, there were only about 4 or 5 phone lines
    in
    the building that worked at all, although sporadically. The front desk
    line
    only worked when the generator was turned on. So if someone called that
    line
    the phone might ring at their end, but the phone did not ring inside
    the
    building.

    The levee break...

    Sometime Monday evening we got word that the levee at the 17th street
    canal
    had broken. We had already known of the Industrial Canal breach and
    the
    subsequent massive flooding of the 9th Ward. But the break at the 17th
    street canal caught the city by surprise. The big question: WOULD THE
    INCOMING FLOOD WATERS FROM THE LAKE REACH THE FFM BUILDING???

    Once we realized that we could be flooded, we began removing lobby
    furniture
    up to the lobby landings. Realizing at the time that the entire lobby
    could
    eventually flooded, we removed all vital records, keys, equipment, etc.
    from
    the front desk area and took it to higher levels in the building.
    Monica
    became known as the "Key Lady" since I asked her if she could control
    all
    lock out keys and keep them safe. As it turned out, I retained the lock
    out
    keys for Floor 1 and she retained lock out keys for Floors 2-5. As of
    this
    writing, Monica now has all keys to the building.

    By Tuesday morning, Stephen Champagne and I began to be concerned about
    the
    generator and the possible need to conserve power. As a result, though
    we
    wondered if we turned the generator off we could get it on again, we
    made
    the decision to conserve power. So we turned it off. I'm grateful to
    Stephen for providing valuable information on how to both turn off and
    turn
    on that massive generator --- even though he was probably not familiar
    with
    that particular generator's specifications. However, his information
    proved
    accurate and very useful.

    Once Stephen and Sue left on Tuesday morning (he had to get back to
    work
    relating to reestablishing the offshore industry in the Houma area and
    Sue
    had to return to work at Ochsner hospital), the generator's management
    was
    left to me. From that point on until Wednesday night, we adopted a
    schedule
    of turning the generator on for about 2 hours in the morning and 2
    hours at
    night.

    As Tuesday wore on, we became more and more anxious about the effect of
    the
    levee break upon the Warehouse District. We also realized that
    security
    could become an issue and that it might be far longer than a few days
    before
    normalcy was reestablished in the city. Little did we know...

    By Tuesday, some of the original survivors had left and we were soon
    down to
    about 15 people. Lynn had to leave with her husband because they were
    running out of critical medicines. Andy (who had provided vital
    assistance
    as head of the "security committee") and his family had to leave
    because
    they were running out of supplies for the baby.

    Those who remained formed into groups/committees to help establish
    normalcy
    in the building. Since we began to realize that we could be in the
    building
    for weeks, if not months, without outside assistance, Monica and others
    (Ramona, Beverly, etc.) formed the food/water committee and began a
    floor-by-floor search to obtain critical food/drinkable water supplies
    and
    create a supply depot on the 3rd floor atrium.

    Our goal was to survive in the building as long as possible to prevent
    intrusion into the building from unauthorized persons, provide some
    measure
    of security, and try to deal with emergencies in the building if they
    should
    occur. By Tuesday we had no electricity (except for short periods of
    time
    from the generator), very limited communications, and we began slowly
    losing
    tap water, starting with the upper floors. Showers functioned in the
    Exercise building until early Wednesday morning. By Wednesday evening,
    all
    tap water ceased.

    I should add that the Outback Building came through the storm with
    virtually
    no damage. The Exercise building had many chucks of ceiling insulation
    fall
    throughout the interior of the building from the force of the wind upon
    the
    metal roof. Otherwise, that building came through fine.

    The tree by the exercise building suffered the most damage, losing many
    limbs, All other courtyard trees fared fine. While there was debris
    scattered throughout the courtyard, Tony, Monica, and Roberto later
    made a
    fine effort to move most of that major debris to the rear yard area.

    The security committee consisting of myself, Tony, and Andy rigged up a
    very
    impressive "trip-wire noise traps in the back driveway. We shoved the
    two
    large dumpster against the backdriveway to prevent anyone from forcing
    open
    that area. We tied empty coke/beer cans to wires and criss-crossed
    them
    across the area and even connected those wires to huge loose panels of
    twisted copper sheeting fallen from the roof to act as additional
    "noisemakers". Then, two survivors who lived in two units above the
    driveway (Andy and Edward) volunteered to keep their windows cracked to
    hear
    for trespassers. By Tuesday night, they were armed and were prepared
    to
    shoot any looters attempting to climb into the property in the back
    driveway
    area.

    The primary access was the side gate. We also installed a wood guard
    on the
    inside of the doors by the mailbox area that were locked in place each
    night. All other stairwell/courtyard exits were locked in place or
    wire was
    bound around the handles to prevent unauthorized intrusion. [BTW, the
    hinge
    on the door to the Exercise Building was broken during the hurricane.]

    All in all, we tried to make the building as secure as possible.

    By Tuesday, with both the adjoining Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn
    totally shut down and devoid of people, the New Orleans Police
    Department
    decided to move policemen into those facilities. That was done because
    as
    the floodwaters moved across the city, regular police stations had to
    be
    evacuated. We learned that at the 6th district someone made the
    unfortunate
    decision to have stored considerable police weapons, ammunition, and
    communication equipment in a basement storage area that subsequent
    flooded.
    Consequently, the police had minimal weapons and insufficient
    communications.

    We made contact with the police stationed at both nearby hotels. There
    were
    approximately a dozen police with a canine unit stationed at the Hilton
    Garden Inn. The Hampton was used as a transient staging ground for over
    a
    hundred police and their families. Although there was no electricity in
    either hotel, the Hampton had police families housed there temporarily
    until
    they evacuated the city. The unit at the Hilton Garden Inn remained
    through
    the time that we were forced out of the FFM (by looting, as described
    below). It seemed that at the Hampton the police were only there at
    night
    and left the building deserted during the day.

    Monday evening, we provided cell phone recharging services to dozens of
    New
    Orleans Police Dept. officers/emergency personnel who were invited to
    come
    from the Hampton/Hilton to our lobby area and plug their rechargers
    into the
    hallway plugs powered by our FFM generator since there was no
    electricity at
    either hotel. They finished recharging about 11pm.

    Tuesday morning Robert (who works at Harrah's) learned that looters
    were
    seen in the Harrah's garages looting vehicles. I'm grateful for the
    fact
    that he drove me from the FFM parking lot to the Harrah garage to
    rescue my
    vehicle. Fortunately, it had not yet been looted since it was parked on
    an
    upper floor. I attempted to park it with my parent's SUV at the Hilton
    garage, but the police there had secured the gates and I could not get
    in. I
    then parked it in the basement garage at the Hampton, although I was
    concerned that the police seemed to only be there during the night.

    Throughout the hurricane I had been in regular telephone contact on my
    remaining phone line with a civil engineer in California whom I have
    known
    for over 30 years. This individual had spent countless hours on the
    internet
    checking geological elevations for New Orleans, meterological reports,
    tidal
    estimates, and other resources. His investigations intensified after
    the
    levee broke. After several conversations, he told me that he was
    convinced
    that the lake waters flooding the city would NOT reach our area of the
    Warehouse District. He explained (in far greater detail than I'll
    describe
    here) how the FFM building area is approximately 3-5 feet above sea
    level
    and, being at the "rim" of the "bowl of New Orleans" by the river, is
    one of
    the highest areas of the city. At the time the hurricane's influx of
    water
    into the lake caused it to rise about 5 feet above normal. Thus it
    became a
    race of natural forces: would the excess water pushed into the lake by
    the
    hurricane subsequently drain out at the Rigolets and back into the Gulf
    faster than the influx of water through the broken levee at the 17th
    street
    canal?

    My California contact did computations and was convinced that the
    outflux of
    lake water coupled with the higher elevation of our immediate area in
    the
    Warehouse District would work together to prevent our area from being
    flooded. As it turned out, he was right.

    Early Tuesday morning about 3am, since it was difficult to sleep in the
    80+
    degree heat in my unit, I began to formulate a plan: knowing that the
    Army
    Corps of Engineers were beginning to stage/billet troops/engineering
    personnel in the New Orleans Convention Center I wondered if the
    following
    could be effected: Would it be possible to secure our area around the
    Convention Center from possible flooding and use that area as a
    "foothold"
    to restore the rest of the city?

    Since the Army Corps of Engineers primary mission was to 1) rescue
    people
    from the floodwaters and 2) dam up the broken levee, I thought that if
    the
    Seabees could be brought in to construct a 4-5 foot temporary dam
    around
    around the Convention Center area, that such would prevent the area
    from
    being flooded even if subsequent rains affected our city. Once the area
    was
    free from the threat of being flooded, then the two electrical
    substations
    on either side of the Convention Center could be used at primary
    generator
    stations to restore a limited electrical grid in a 5-10 block area
    around
    the NOCC. From that base, the incoming troops could fly in supplies
    and
    equipment to began to rebuild the city.

    During the morning of Tuesday, August 30, 2005, I went to the
    Convention
    Center and met with Col. Mouton, head of the Army Corps of Engineers
    effort
    in New Orleans. I had managed to type my "suggestion" using an old
    electric
    typewriter powered by the FFM generator while it was being operated for
    two
    hours Tuesday morning. Col. Mouton listen to my suggestions, but his
    basically reply was, "The extent of the damage to New Orleans is very
    extensive & growing --- you should leave the city as soon as possible."
    I
    told him that we had ample food and drinkable water at the FFM and
    could
    last for months. He said, "If you want to live under such conditions,
    that's up to you, but I recommend that you evacuate the city."

    Later that day we heard on our battery-operated radios at the FFM that
    "road
    pirates" were shooting people trying to leave the city via the only
    remaining route (cross the MS River bridge to the Westbank Expressway,
    continue along HWY 90 to Boutte and then to I-310, crossing the river
    at
    Luling and then on to I-10 and ultimately Baton Rouge) and then
    commandeering their automobiles.

    The people remaining at the FFM (which now numbered about 18) gathered
    on
    the 4th floor atrium area to discuss our situation. We had regular
    meetings
    each day at 9:30am and 3:00pm to update one another on our situation
    and
    assign tasks, as needed.

    I related to everyone Col. Mouton's words and we learned of the
    reported
    shootings on the Westbank.

    One of our biggest questions: where were the federal troops needed to
    protect us and the city????

    As it turned out, four more people decided to leave and take their
    chances
    on the highway and 14 people decided to stay because they felt we were
    still
    safe in the FFM and had plenty of food and water.

    By Wednesday, the search committee had searched through units on the
    1st and
    2nd floors and obtained perishable, non-perishable, and basic first aid
    supplies. We assembed the resultant cache on the atrium of the 3rd
    floor
    thinking that floor was a central location for all 5 floors and that it
    would be safe from possible flooding. As the inventory increased, we
    were
    convinced that we could hold out for months, if necessary, until
    essential
    city services were restored. We felt that was the best way to keep the
    FFM
    building secure.

    We also had 4-hour security shifts at the front desk beginning at 10pm
    and
    ending at 6am on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. It was
    certainly
    eerie sitting at the front desk in a totally darkened building and
    hearing
    throughout the night: sirens, helicopters, and occasional gunfire.

    I had a small cache of revolvers and shotguns that I provided to
    members of
    our group. Thus, the individuals on watch at night were armed, and
    individuals sleeping in the rear of the building facing the courtyard
    were
    also armed. During the day (by Wednesday --- as the level of violence
    in
    the city increased) many of us wore revolvers throughout the day.

    On Tuesday afternoon, I convinced a police recruit --- Jason Berger ---
    to
    join our group and move into the FFM. Much of his police unit had
    become
    dispersed by the flooding, and some police had evacuated. Jason was
    provided with a riot shotgun and another pistol since he (like many
    police)
    had lost their basic weapons in the flood. Jason was friend of an FFM
    unit
    owner who had evacuated before the hurricane. But Jason had originally
    come
    to the building not knowing if she had or had not evacuated from the
    city.

    On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings we decided to have a "cookout" in the
    patio of the perishable meats that we had found in 1st and 2nd floor
    units.
    Such food would help us to survive since otherwise it would perish.
    Edward
    and Jim proved themselves excellent chefs and BBQ'd us two great meals
    with
    some excellent side dishes. In one sense it was surreal: we sat out in
    the
    patio among debris having a BBQ while military helicopters constantly
    flew
    over. I can only imagine what the military troops thought when they
    looked
    down into our patio and saw a group of about 15 people having a BBQ!!!

    Even until Wednesday evening our spirits were high: we'd done our best
    to
    secure the building, we had plenty of drinkable water and durable food
    supplies, we'd just heard that the floodwaters had stopped their
    approach
    towards our building, and we were convinced that we could hold out for
    months at the FFM until the city began to return to normal. Although
    we had
    no electricity (except for 4 hours each day), no water supplies from
    the
    city system, the building was becoming increasingly hot, and our
    communication with the outside world was minimal ---- we believed that
    we
    could stick it out until essential services were restored. Little did
    we
    know that all hell would break loose Thursday morning.

    Rescue from Magazine Street...

    On Wednesday, Jim McClean learned of a young woman alone in a large
    residential complex on Magazine and Julia. She was the lone holdout
    after
    the building had been evacuated. Some of our group managed to get word
    to
    her to come to the FFM and she later joined us along with a cat she was
    caring for that belong to someone who had evacuated from that building.

    Thursday morning...

    I heard gunshots in the distance late Wednesday night. Then, some
    official
    had the idea to require the people massed in the Superdome to walk to
    the
    New Orleans Convention Center where buses would supposedly be available
    to
    bus them to the Houston Astrodome and federal troops at the Convention
    Center would provide those people with food and water.

    The problem is that those people used the side street along the FFM as
    a
    major thoroughfare to get to the Convention Center. Thus, people that
    had
    possibly no knowledge of our building and Warehouse District area
    suddenly
    learned of our area. We were in the patio and could hear the people
    walking
    on the other side of the gate. Some of them said such things as, "All
    we
    need is a polevault to get over that (FFM) fence!"

    By about 8am Thursday morning, the looting began in earnest in our
    area. The
    Corporation Bar and Grill was looted. The Howling Wolf was looted. The
    Red
    Dog Saloon was looted. Then looters got access to the FFM parking lot
    and we
    heard car alarms going off every few minutes. Soon there was a
    "symphony of
    car alarms resounding through the area."

    Jason, our resident policeman, met with me and said that things were
    getting
    so bad outside that we needed to evacuate the building ASAP. We
    basically
    had 90 minutes to gather whatever we can, go out into the streets to
    get
    vehicles, and try to leave the city ... safely. Armed with a riot
    shotgun
    and several other weapons, and with the assistance of a second
    policeman
    with an automatic weapon from the Hilton who guarded our side gate as
    we
    exited, the remaining 16 of us managed to get in our four cars that we
    obtained from the Hilton. Our caravan of cars then left the area and
    drove
    out of the city via the only remaining exit on the Westbank. While we
    were
    packing our vehicles, many young men from the Superdome stood around in
    the
    street and sidewalks, watching us. Some of these individuals had been
    looting the area. Some were shouting -- others only watched us. I'm
    convinced that there was only ONE reason we were not attacked: we were
    armed
    and they were not. Jason risked his own life by standing in the middle
    of
    South Peters in front of our building and holding his weapons at the
    ready
    while we walked to the Hilton to obtain our vehicles. Jason was in the
    lead
    car that we followed to ultimately reach Gonzales, Louisiana.

    Those 90 minutes of evacuation from our building were traumatic. In my
    case
    I grabbed what belongings I could for myself and my parents, but the
    most
    difficult part was getting my wheelchair-bound father down 4 flights of
    stairs in the dark (with bobbing flashlights) and Jason the policeman
    standing at the bottom of the dark, hot stairwell yelling every 3
    minutes:
    "WE'VE GOT TO GET OUT!!! NOW!! NOW!! NOW!!" His words added to
    everyone's
    sense of intense anxiety. Thanks to the help of Edward, Jim, Tony,
    Eric, and
    others, we finally managed to get my father down that dark stairwell
    ---
    although all of (including the wheelchair) ended up damaged and
    bruised.

    We left the building as secure as we could, but we were concerned that
    looters could attempt to get into the area. Ultimately, it came down to
    our
    lives -- or the building -- or possibly losing both if we stayed. One
    thought is that the individuals/looters who watched us come out of the
    FFM
    fully armed had no way of knowing if OTHER armed people remained inside
    our
    building. So that was a possible deterrant to looting.

    From what I understand, until the Federal troops arrived late Friday
    morning, there was a period of virtual anarchy in the Warehouse
    District/Convention Center area from Thursday morning (when we left at
    10am,
    September 1st) until Friday morning. I believe we were among the very
    last
    Warehouse District residents to leave the area.

    Once in Gonzales, our caravan assembled to discuss our plans. I and my
    parents ended up traveling to a friend's home in Baton Rouge. Jason and
    an
    FFM resident went to Lafayette. Several people went to Birmingham,
    Houston,
    and California, and one individual stayed in Gonzales with a friend.
    We've
    stayed in contact with one another and some of us returned to the FFM
    on
    Saturday, September 10th, 2005 (described below).

    Living in the FFM until Thursday was challenging: there was no
    electricity
    (except for brief periods) the units became very hot and the only
    access was
    up the stairwells. Since we had no water by Wednesday night, we filled
    buckets with pool water and hauled them up to the upper floors to use
    in
    flushing toilets. The most bearable area was the lobby which surprising
    stayed about 78 degrees. At night it was very reassuring to have
    electricity
    in the lobby -- if only for 2 hours .... for those two hours it felt
    like
    "civilization" had returned to our building.

    Later developments....

    On Thursday and Friday, September 8th and 9th, we learned that at least
    two
    FFM residents had managed to reenter the building. It appeared that
    looters
    had broken into the Exercise bldg.'s candy machine --- but surprising
    left
    much candy on the floor. Were they interrupted during their looting?
    Also,
    someone tore down the plywood covering the front entrance and
    subsequently
    broke a large pane of glass next to the inside glass doors. That was
    sufficient space to allow them to enter into the building. The glass
    door to
    the management office was smashed with glass all over the carpeting. An
    owner reported that he found keys strewn about the floor of the
    management
    office and then secured those keys. Apparently the doors to a courtyard
    unit
    near the hot tub was forced open, but the unit appeared orderly inside
    and
    there remained TV's and other electronic equipment that was not looted.
    The
    behavior of the looters seemed very bizarre --- if indeed the damages
    were
    done by looters.

    There is presently no evidence that any other areas/units in the
    building
    were looted.

    The Saturday, September 10th caravan...

    Dr. Herman Soong (4th floor resident) offered to lead in a group of FFM
    residents to New Orleans. As a deputy sheriff and clinical psychiatrist
    for
    the State of Louisiana, we hoped that Herman had the needed credentials
    to
    get through the checkpoints. As word got out about our planned
    expedition to
    New Orleans, the caravan swelled from three to over 10 vehicles. I
    prepared
    signs in Baton Rouge that were posed on the front of each car: "FEDERAL
    (in
    huge black letters) FIBRE MILLS VEHICLE #_____ OF _____".

    The word "FEDERAL" was the first (and possibly only) word that a
    checkpoint
    policeman would read. By going back via the same route we exited, we
    met
    only two checkpoints. When the checkpoint guards stationed just before
    the
    Mississippi River bridge saw Herman's badge/flashing lights, Herman
    said,
    "these cars are with me" --- and so we were all waved through.

    [Note: I would have endeavored to communicate sooner to my fellow FFM
    residents, but in the mad rush out of the building on September 1st, I
    left
    critical information that I needed for such communication. My focus
    during
    that evacuation was the saving of human lives.]

    We arrived back at the FFM about 10am on Saturday, September 10, 2005.

    The 15 or so people who were back in the building began some basic
    cleanup.
    The dumpsters that had become a breeding ground for hundreds of flies
    were
    moved across the street. The generator was restarted. Some
    refrigerators
    were emptied. The pool was skimmed and treated with chlorine. The
    plywood on
    the front of the building was reattached. One of the computers in the
    management office was secured by Property One. And, most important,
    three
    owners decided to stay in the building --- and, as of this writing,
    they are
    they watching over our property as best as they can. We should all be
    grateful for their effort. I would have liked to stay in the building
    but I
    had to return to my parents in Baton Rouge since their respective
    medical
    conditions (Alzheimer's and Parkinson's) require my attention.

    I believe we all owe gratitude to Monica, Robert, and Jim for staying
    in our
    building. I've already heard that they've been helping to rescue a
    starving
    cat in 104 (whose owner believed that a co-worker had removed the pet
    from
    the building prior to the hurricane) and also stopped a significant
    water
    leak from under the sink in Unit 214 that was apparently leaking water
    into
    Unit 116. They also did their best to sop up all the water that
    collected on
    116's wood floors.

    Contact information and ... Where do we go from here?

    CONTACT INFORMATION:
    blah blah blah
     
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  3. FarmerDave

    FarmerDave F1 World Champ
    Consultant

    Jul 26, 2004
    15,167
    Full Name:
    IgnoranteWest
    Wow... the whole time I was reading that, it was reminding me of the book "Alas, Babylon" by Pat Frank.

    You've got some brave neighbors!
     
  4. stardoc

    stardoc Formula Junior

    May 5, 2005
    656
    The big oven
    Full Name:
    K RA
    Best of luck bro in putting this terrible catasrophy and challenge behind you and going on with your life. Our collective prayers are behind you guys.
     
  5. WJHMH

    WJHMH Two Time F1 World Champ
    Silver Subscribed

    Sep 5, 2001
    22,459
    Panther City, Texas
    Full Name:
    Preferred Pronouns: Lord/Master
    That's intense..
     
  6. coolestkidever

    coolestkidever F1 Veteran

    Feb 28, 2004
    5,486
    CT
    Full Name:
    Patrick
    wow. Intense. Brave Brave Men and women. Very smart as well, you should be glad to be in their presence.
     
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  8. 134282

    134282 Four Time F1 World Champ
    BANNED

    Aug 3, 2002
    40,647
    California
    Full Name:
    Carbon McCoy
    Amazing... This whole ordeal is so sad... Some peoples' strength and courage really show through when **** hits the fan...
     
  9. Chip D

    Chip D Formula Junior

    Sep 13, 2003
    275
    Louisiana
    Thanks for posting this John.
    What an incredible story!
     
  10. bottomline

    bottomline Formula 3

    Mar 10, 2004
    1,144
    Denver, CO
    Full Name:
    Bijan
    Amazing insight...
     
  11. WDR328

    WDR328 Formula 3

    Dec 11, 2003
    1,473
    The Bugscuffle Inn
    Full Name:
    D. Rose
    John, a truly amazing story. I wish the best for all of your neighbors and I hope you and your parents are OK. God's Speed to all of you.
     
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  13. Admiral Thrawn

    Admiral Thrawn F1 Rookie

    Jul 2, 2003
    3,932
    Los Angeles, CA
    Full Name:
    Jim
    Great story.

    It sounds like they may have been able to stay during the 'anarchy' period of Thursday to Friday, but obviously that would have been risky.

    Still, the fact they were armed gave them a massive advantage, as mentioned when they were evacuating.

    In hindsight, there wouldn't have been much point - the looting doesn't sound like it was that bad in your building. Also, the fact that N.O. is still unlivable meant they would have had to evacuate sooner or later.


    I've been reading that Rita has already caused some additional flooding in N.O...
     
  14. enzo360

    enzo360 F1 Veteran
    Consultant

    Aug 1, 2004
    5,179
    Belgium
    Full Name:
    Jurgen Durand
    That's some story, probably one of many exceptional stories during and in the aftermath of Katrina and now Rita. I must say that when I read this I'm happy to be living in some calmer climate. Glad to hear you and your relatives/friends came out OK.
    Godspeed to all of you,
    Jurgen
     
  15. steve f

    steve f F1 World Champ

    Mar 15, 2004
    12,030
    12cylinder town
    Full Name:
    steve
    wow what a story
     
  16. JSinNOLA

    JSinNOLA F1 World Champ
    Sponsor Lifetime Rossa

    Mar 18, 2002
    15,077
    Denver, CO
    Full Name:
    John
    Here is a pic of my building taken from convention center blvd, one block from me. You can see 'federal fiber mills' on the top of it. Told you guys it was close!
    http://www.pbase.com/cvbjr/image/49754177
     
  17. wax

    wax Four Time F1 World Champ
    Advising Moderator

    Jul 20, 2003
    45,319
    SFPD
    Full Name:
    Dirty Harry
    Harrowing, indeed, but add to that - resourceful and cool as a cucumber.
     
  18. Ryan S.

    Ryan S. Two Time F1 World Champ
    Silver Subscribed

    Mar 20, 2004
    22,079
    the pic with the soldiers is pretty crazy..and those dont look like normal guard troops, they like there part of some airborne unit, kind of crazy to see in an american city, looks like bosnia or something with the gray sky..
     
  19. Roland E Linder

    Roland E Linder Formula 3

    Nov 3, 2003
    1,791
    COLORADO
    Full Name:
    Roland E Linder
    thanks for taking the time to share a story that's so close from us..hard to believe that this is happening here.The best to you and your family.
    Roland
    F40LM
     
  20. JSinNOLA

    JSinNOLA F1 World Champ
    Sponsor Lifetime Rossa

    Mar 18, 2002
    15,077
    Denver, CO
    Full Name:
    John
    Thanks Roland. Hope your surgery went well and that your recovery is speedy. See you at the FQC next time around!

    As for me, I'll be in Texas until I move back to New Orleans in January. Can't wait to get back.
     

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