Thursday, September 01, 2005

The horror, the horror

The current AP wire story describes the environment at the New Orleans Convention Center this way:
"We have individuals who are getting raped, we have individuals who are getting beaten," Compass said. "Tourists are walking in that direction and they are getting preyed upon."

But an MSNBC report (and others who travelled there today) tell an entirely different story, of people angry and frustrated. Of the National Guard chasing them out of the NOCC kitchens after they broke in and tried to prepare food for the crowd. Of infants and the elderly dying completed neglected by officialdom.

I am trying to get a transcipt of the long Olberman interview with the videographer. Until then, view this: video.msnbc.com. Choose "Desperate cries for help". Better yet, if you see this post tonight, which the Countdown rebroadcast.

NOLA doesn't need tens of thousands of troops with rifles to restore order. It needs water and food and doctors and medicine. Bring that, and order will return. If all they bring are there guns, these desperate people will continue to fight for their lives in any way they can. And the horror will only grow greater.

UPDATE: Here's the promised rush-rush transcipt (by a volunteer to help the blog) of videographer Tony Zumbado's eye-witness account of what's really happening at the NOCC:

Tony Zumbado: I gotta tell you, I thought I'd seen it all--and just when you think you've seen it all, you go into another situation and you see something horrific. I've never seen anything in my life like this. I've never seen any--I just can't put it into words, the amount of destruction that is in this city and how these people are coping. They are just left behind. There is nothing offered to them--no water, no ice, no C-rations--nothing for the last four days. They were told to go to the Convention Center, they did, they've been behaving--the attitude there is unbelievable, how organized they are, how supportive they are of each other.

They have not started any melees, any riots, nothing. They just want food and support. And what I saw there I've never seen in this country. And we need to really look at the situation at this Convention Center. It's getting very, very crazy in there, and very dangerous, and somebody needs to come down with a lot of food, a lot of water. There's no hostility there, so they don't need to be bringing any guns or anything like that. They need support.

These people are very desperate.I saw two gentlemen die in front of me because of dehydration. I saw a baby near death. I went back with Harry Connick Jr. He spoke to them and told them that he would do anything he can to help them. They seemed to appreciate that. He is the only person of *authority*, believe it or not--a musician--to go in there and tell them that things are going to be okay.

I don't want to sound negative against anybody or any official, but according to them and what I saw, they left, and they're there on their own. There's no police, there's no authority. There's this one gentleman who took me around and escorted me around, and he's become, like, the local voice for these folks at the convention center. He came over to me and told me. "You need to come over here." As I was doing my little morning cruise around the city, I hooked up with him, put him in my car, we went over there with the crew. Two other journalists were with me.

We went in there, and you would never, never imagine what you saw in a
convention center in New Orleans. The bathrooms--the way the bathrooms were--the stench in there, it was unbelievable. Dead people around the walls of the Convention Center, laying in the middle of the street in their dying chairs, where they died, right there in their lawn chair. They were just covered up. In their wheelchair, covered up, laying there for dead. Babies--two babies--dehydrated and died. I tell you, I couldn't take it.

They would have talked to anybody who would've went in there and could've helped them. They would've talked to anybody. It was just like the first time that I felt that the cameras were welcome. That's how desperate they were. Usually, you know how people are in situations of this nature--they don't want to be videotaped because they have pride. They don't want to be exposed to all the--I guess-- misfortune that they're having at that moment. But these folks welcomed me. They all *wanted* to talk. They all wanted to take me to where the dead bodies were, where the destruction was, where the lack of food--where, where the toilets were just over--it was, it was overwhelming.

I can't describe it.I just don't know how to tell you how bad it is and how they need help, yesterday--really bad, and they're being patient. You've got to give them credit. They're sitting there being patient. They're not acting up. I've seen worse situations where less--where, where they had more.

I've been in a hurricane--in Andrew--and people acted much worse than that, and they had much support over there. There's no support here. There's no foundation--there's no Plan B, Plan A. They're just left by themselves, in the convention (center), to fend for themselves.I talked to them. I said, "How are you surviving in the last four days? How are you feeding your baby?" And the one father said, "I have to do what I have to do. I have to go into stores. I have to steal milk, water, ice--whatever I can get to feed my babies, because they're not going to die on me."They're stealing--not because they're looting. It's a different type of looting that you're seeing here. There were early looters, about shoes, in the stores. These people now are about survivors.

These are the families who listened to the authorities, who followed directions, who believed in the government--the local government system--to go and do what they're supposed to do, and they followed directions. They walked miles--floodwaters up to their chests--for a whole day--and they followed directions.

These are law-abiding citizens who have been left behind. They did everything they were told, and I tell you this, that I talked to all of them--I asked them last night as I was coming in because I had to go out of the city to bring in some support systems for our network. I saw 82 buses. I counted 82 buses sitting just outside New Orleans. And I got out, and one of the guys did not want to come on camera, and I said, "What's the problem? Why are they not letting you in?"--"It's unsafe. A couple of the drivers do not want to go in." That's how bad it was. Some of the drivers had gotten this--I guess somebody was putting out some bad news that it was totally unsafe.

It's not unsafe to come in here and help these people. It's unsafe if you're looting like the other people were. These people are not looting.

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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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