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THE REAL GHOSTS

OF HURRICANE KATRINA


by The Contributing Editors of Haunted New Orleans and Haunted America Tours

HAUNTED NEW ORLEANS TOURS

New Report Ghost Haunted Archives

 

 

“ . . . The Nightmare Life-in-Death was She, who thick's man’s blood with cold!”


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 lifetime accumulating.

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?

Ghost Photos The House Of Voodoo

 

 

 

“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink . . . “

by Jane Wichers, with Carter Modjeski


“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 tale?

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 same again.

We have all been made ghosts by Katrina.

 

Ghost Photos The House Of Voodoo

 

 

“O God! Can I not grasp them with a tighter clasp? O God! Can I not save ONE from the pitiless wave?”

 

by Dawn Theard


“Here Lies Vera. God Help Us.”

-- 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.

 

 

“President say, ‘Hey little fat man isn’t it a shame, what the river has done to this poor tractless land?”

 

by Alyne Pustanio

 

 

“Can we stop by the Taco Bell?”

-- 76-year old Gerald Martin of New Orleans, to rescuers who found him 18 days after the storm, still clutching an empty water bottle

(The Times Picayune, September 19, 2005)

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.

Ghost Photos The House Of Voodoo

 

 

 

Editor’s 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.

Most of 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.

To those 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.

Still, 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!

Many of 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!

“Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, to miss her both night and day?”

We Sure Do!

 

 

LINKS OF INTEREST for Hurricane Katrna

 

Help Identify People Missing as a Result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the U.S. Department of Justice has asked the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to staff a hotline to take reports of missing children, missing adults, and found children.

If you are searching for someone who is missing or are caring for a child who is separated from his or her family, please call the Katrina/Rita Missing Persons Hotline at 1-888-544-5475.

HAUNTED NEW ORLEANS TOURS FORUM ON HURRICANE KATRINA

Flood water estimates of New Orleans provided by C&C Technologies, Inc. a privately-owned International Surveying and Mapping Company

PICTURES of NEW ORLEANS AND THE SURROUNDING AREAS SHOT FROM AIR OF THE AFTERMATH AND FLOODING OF NEW ORLEANS DUE TO HURRICANE KATRINA noaa.gov

 

PLEASE HELP US REBUILD AND RECOVER FROM HURRICANE KATRINA

WE DO SO APPRECIATE YOUR GREAT ACTS OF KINDNESS

THANK YOU

 



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