OF HURRICANE KATRINA
The Contributing Editors of Haunted New
Orleans and Haunted America Tours
NEW ORLEANS TOURS
Report Ghost Haunted Archives
. . . The Nightmare Life-in-Death was
She, who thick's man’s blood with
by Jane Wichers
In better days, in times that may
forever be marked “B.K.” for “Before
Katrina,” thousands of tourists flocked to
New Orleans – that gem of the Mississippi
River, the City that Care Forgot – to be romanced
by its history, intoxicated by both its atmosphere
and its spirits, and also to be chilled by stories
of its other “spirits,” the lingering
ghosts of one of the oldest cities in America. Visitors
have paid to be escorted in groups along the circuitous
route of the Old Vieux Carre; paid to stand in front
of infamous doorways to the past or beside the crumbling
monoliths of tombs where, they were told, the dead
slept fitfully and still walked among the living
in cobbled streets and gaslights of New Orleans.
These days, and doubtless in all the
days to come, no one has to look far for ghosts;
no one really has to pay anything to be haunted;
no one has to wait two hundred years to see the
spectral faces of the dead and dying peering out
at every corner, from every turn in the road.
Death, despair, tragedy, fear and
hopelessness, all the ingredients of a “really
genuine” haunting, of a truly cautionary tale,
are all around us now.
“Help me, please! Don’t
let me die!!”
-- Last words of a frantic 911
caller somewhere in the fury of Katrina.
“My momma drowned! My momma
drowned!! We couldn’t get out!!”
-- Burnell Johnson of Chalmette,
LA, to helicopter rescue personnel, August 30, 2005.
Johnson’s mother, Geraldine, drowned in 15
feet of murky water, the first of Katrina’s
surges to wash over Chalmette.
“The water’s coming
up . . . we’re all going to die! I have a
baby! Where do we go? Tell us what to do!!”
-- 911 caller in New Orleans,
as the waters from the breach of the Industrial
Canal flooded the Lower 9th Ward.
Evacuees from New Orleans, who watched
their long love affair with the City as-they-knew-it
literally washed away, sat in mute silence in shelters
and hotels, in loved ones’ homes states away
from the disaster, watching wherever television
was available, the systematic murder of their beloved
hometown. With it, the vengeful bitch named Katrina
was determined, it seemed, to take everything, every
memory, every moment that most of us had spent a
We sat, scattered in cities like Little
Rock and Memphis, Houston and Lubbock, in states
some of us had never thought we’d ever visit,
like Missouri and Minnesota; we sat, in pieces but
united, in the baleful glow of the television, or
pressed against transistor radios, listening with
deadened ears to reporters from everywhere else
tell us the tale as it unfolded. For some of us,
the images that accompanied the endless commentary
are what will remain, what will constitute the engraving
on the “front” of the double-sided coin
that Katrina was minting in our minds.
I recalled vividly, in the days leading
up to the storm’s strike, people in lines
laughing, albeit nervously, that there would be
“nothin’ to dis storm!”
“Man, I lived through Betsy,”
said one old-timer, annoyed to be waiting behind
a crowd of people buying masking tape and ice chests,
waiting to have propane tanks filled. “This
storm ain’t gonna be no Betsy! It’s
going to Texas! I dunno what all this crap is about!”
The old guy shrugged and looked down at his items:
several packs of batteries, the ubiquitous masking
tape, and a few boxes of emergency candles. He seemed
almost embarrassed to be buying those meager supplies
while mouthing off about how ridiculous all the
excitement about Katrina had become.
I couldn’t help wondering, sitting
exhausted but safe in my Memphis hotel room, flipping
through TV channels as image after image of the
devastation began to wash over me, just what had
become of that sturdy old soul, that Betsy veteran:
had he survived the fury of Betsy’s modern
and much more ferocious sister? Where in what was
left of South Louisiana was he? Is even his ghost
left to tell its tale?
water everywhere, nor any drop to drink
. . . “
by Jane Wichers, with Carter
“These were mostly poor
people who didn’t have much other than their
homes . . . When it’s hot, they’re hotter.
When it’s cold, they’re colder. When
the wind blows, they go over farther. And when a
plague hits, they die faster.”
-- Comments of Lt. Gen. Russel
Honore, Commander of Joint Task Force Katrina (The
Times Picayune, September 19, 2005).
“HELP US, PLEASE!!”
-- Angela Perkins of New Orleans,
on her knees in front of the Ernest N. Morial Convention
Center, September 2, 2005.
“I don’t know who
it is (Gov. Kathleen Blanco or President George
W. Bush) but one of them better get their ass on
a plane and sit down and talk about this!
Excuse my French, everyone in
America . . . but I am pissed!!
People are dying down here!!”
-- New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin
to reporter Garland Robinette of United Radio Broadcasters
and as quoted in The Times Picayune.
Where is Mr. Jacobs? After the Superdome
became a shelter of last resort and while Katrina
was pounding the City of New Orleans, this poor
man appeared out of nowhere and scenes of his struggle
against the rain-whipped wind and rising waters
around the Dome were being shown repeatedly, on
every channel. He was shown running and carrying
a black garbage bag. He was shown again when the
newscasters were droning on and on about looting.
He was shown yet again when his name was finally
given – Jacobs – and we were told that
the garbage bag contained all that he could salvage
from his deluged New Orleans home. He was one of
the latecomers to the Dome that fateful day. I will
never forget his face as he struggled against the
fury of the storm, seeking shelter. I wonder to
this day where he might be; did he make it at last?
Is he safe? Is even his ghost left to tell its tale?
Where is Terry Johnson? A strong and
faithful black woman who on any other day might
be seen laughing and joking among friends on her
way to the grocery or to church, but who, in the
aftermath of the monster Katrina, now knelt in front
of her dying friend, for whom she had cared for
over five years, pleading with the woman to live,
just live, pleading for God to help. Terry Johnson
poured cool water on a face cloth and sponged the
glistening forehead of her charge, soothing her
with words of comfort, pleading for the pale and
weakening woman to hold on. Dorothy Divic, 81 years
old and gravely ill, died in Terry Johnson’s
arms outside the Convention Center on September
1, 2005. The memory of that dying woman, crumpled
in a wheel chair in the blazing August sun, will
forever haunt the place where she died. But where
is the woman who begged Dorothy to hold on? Did
she survive? Is even her ghost left to tell its
An elderly man whose name we never
will know was the first to die in the confusion
at the Convention Center. No one knew exactly when
or on which day Death found the man sitting in his
folding lawn chair in the middle of Convention Center
Boulevard. But there he sat, covered finally with
a blanket, five days after the storm, when buses
finally arrived for the living. Who among us will
ever pass that spot again and not be chilled by
his memory? Is his ghost left to tell its tale?
Angela Perkins knelt in the street
in front of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center,
begging and pleading for help from someone, anyone,
as behind her masses of evacuees who had crowded
the convention facility in the fury of the storm
sat waiting for buses to take them away from their
suffering, buses that were too long in coming. In
days to come, will the echoes of her cries be heard
above the din and rattle of urban traffic? Where
is Angela? Will a ghost remain to tell her tale?
Thousands of the displaced poor, elderly
and infirm, people who either couldn’t get
to the Louisiana Superdome “shelter of last
resort,” or who mistook the Convention Center
as that shelter, spent a harrowing week in the dank
bowels of the building. Forgotten? Or, perhaps overlooked
in the confusion that overwhelmed the city after
the storm? Who can really say?
In days to come, however, the once-pristine
and modern convention center ought to be a prime
stop on any Haunted New Orleans tour.
People whose lives were packed into
a Hefty garbage bag were beaten and forced to surrender
their meager possessions to the hoodlums that roamed
the pitch black halls of the convention center.
In the bowels of the darkness, in the restrooms,
the unsuspecting and the weak were beaten and attacked:
a ten year old girl was gang-raped and her throat
cut. Though karma may reward her murderers, will
this ghostly child ever rest?
Inside, in a food service freezer,
a makeshift morgue had been set up for those others
who perished either from the heat or illness, or
from foul play. When the National Guard took control
of the building on the Saturday following Katrina’s
assault, they found a total of ten people stored
in the freezer. Will their souls rest peacefully?
What about the elderly black woman
who nearly died of an asthma attack – her
taut, gasping face emblazoned on our memories? What
of the poor disheveled souls sitting on boxes and
lawn chairs, looking desperately down the empty
streets for signs of rescue and comfort –
the elderly white man, everything he could salvage
of his life jammed into a paperboard suitcase, sitting
in the noonday sun. What became of him?
Devolution was what was happening
at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in the
wake of the devastation of Katrina and it will take
all of us – those who sat mute and helpless,
so far away – a lifetime to forget the looks
of abject fear and desperation on the faces of these
forgotten ones, many of whom did not survive.
New Orleans now has more ghosts and
hauntings than any battlefield or castle or Indian
burial ground can ever claim. There are ghosts of
the dead and even ghosts of the living; there are
ghosts peering from the gutted houses and battered
rooftops; there are ghosts in the eyes of every
displaced citizen of South Louisiana. So if you
want a haunted history tour that has no peer, look
deeply into the eyes of a former resident of New
Orleans, be they from Lakeview or Mid-City or the
Lower 9th Ward or other areas left high and dry,
and you will see, behind the tears, the ghost of
a life that was, in a City that will never be the
We have all been made ghosts by Katrina.
God! Can I not grasp them with a tighter
clasp? O God! Can I not save ONE from the
by Dawn Theard
“Here Lies Vera. God Help
-- Vera lay in a makeshift grave
constructed at the corner of Jackson Avenue and
Magazine Street in New Orleans. No one knows who
placed her there, or if that person didn’t
meet a similar fate, but the act of this Good
Samaritan will not be forgotten.
When the ghosts of Katrina come
to roll call there will be among them some kind
spirits whose images, along with those of the
displaced and the dead, will forever be carved
on the mental memorial of post-Katrina New Orleans.
An army truck filled with medical
workers – doctors, nurses and other professionals
– who had tried to hold on, in spite of
wind, water and lack of power or even generators.
These professionals had honored their oath to
humanity and had stayed with their patients, putting
themselves in the greatest peril, first from the
storm and then of being temporarily abandoned
while the living were rescued all around them.
The faces of these men and women, exhausted and
looking for the moment defeated, tell one of the
great tales of the aftermath of this storm, one
of the oldest tales there is: that of loving your
neighbor as yourself, of helping the helpless
and honoring the dying. Defeated? Not by a long
shot. And thanks to many of these committed individuals,
the toll of the death bell will ring a little
shorter when all is said and done.
Anita Roach, a resident of the Lower
9th Ward whose home was washed away, sat in front
of the hell of the Ernest N. Morial Convention
Center, lifted her hands upward and broke out
in a song of comfort and praise. “Stand
by me…” she sang to her God, and soon
others joined in with dry mouths and sweaty hands,
to sing and praise with her. Anita Roach lost
her home, but not her husband, she laughingly
related in The Times Picayune. So long as they
were safe, and alive, life would go on.
say, ‘Hey little fat man isn’t
it a shame, what the river has done to
this poor tractless land?”
“Can we stop by the Taco
-- 76-year old Gerald Martin
of New Orleans, to rescuers who found him 18 days
after the storm, still clutching an empty water
(The Times Picayune, September
76 year old Gerald Martin was rescued
from his Gentilly home 18 days after the storm
roared through New Orleans. When rescuers found
him he was dehydrated and had lost a lot of weight;
he clutched his pants around his thinning waist
and a “bone-dry” plastic water jug
was in his hand. Martin had climbed into his attic
to escape the rising flood waters (18 feet or
more in this area of the city) and had spent days
watching the waters slowly recede, waiting for
the sound of rescuers he knew would come.
The team – members of California
Task Force 3 – evacuated the elderly Martin
to a waiting medical helicopter when the man turned
to them and asked, “Can we stop by the Taco
Bell?” The team laughed along with him,
but there was a sense of amazement among them.
How this genial old man, who had survived the
torments of hell on earth, could be so upbeat
and calm, simply amazed them.
Those of us from New Orleans who
sit and gape no more, but who, like the water
receding up the beach, are beginning to flow back
to the City of our youth, the city of our future,
will forgive the California Team their bewilderment.
Those of us from New Orleans know one thing if
we know anything: Nothing can destroy this City,
nor take away the love its people have for living
life well and fully. Nature may knock us to our
knees, but we know from experience that’s
the best position to be in to ask for miracles
or to make one happen.
Note: The editors and staff of Haunted
New Orleans and Haunted America Tours
appreciate the concern of people across
the U.S. as our great city suffered the
ravages of the devastating Category 5
storm that came to be called Katrina.
us evacuated to one place or another –
Houston, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky,
Georgia – and some of us got unexpected
“vacation” visits to local
color places like Graceland and The Alamo.
But all of us, each and every one, never
once stopped thinking and praying for
our beloved City.
cities and locales that hosted us, our
deepest thanks; to those people who opened
their arms and welcomed the storm-drenched
people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast,
blessings and a thousand thanks to each
and every one of you.
I’m sure you’ll understand
it when we say, WE know what it means
to miss New Orleans, and sorry to leave
so soon, but she’s waiting for us
to come back home!
you asked, “What can we do to help?”
Our answer to that would be, “Come
back and see us!” By visiting you
will help to revitalize and rejuvenate
this great City; the wonders that attracted
you before the storm are still here. In
this homeland of gumbo and jazz, of red
beans and rice on Monday and seafood on
Fridays, of making groceries and where
y’at, of Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras,
of Louis Armstrong and Marie Laveau, life
will go on! It’s already flowing
through our veins! So come back and see
us, sit down and hear our amazing stories
first hand over some Manuel’s Hot
Tamales or Brocato’s Italian Ice
Cream. Come back and be amazed at how
well this wonderful old city knows how
to thank the people who love her!
you know what it means to miss New Orleans,
to miss her both night and day?”