We Need Boats
By 9 a.m. Monday, the worst of the winds had passed. The flood was just beginning.
What was left of the NOPD's communication system crackled with urgent requests for aid from Capt. Bryson. The Ninth Ward and the Lower Ninth were flooded and people were scrambling on to their rooftops to escape the rising waters. The tactical team started to respond to the call. They were joined by the officers of the vice and narcotics division who had no specific mission and were operating independently, scrounging for equipment and vehicles throughout the unflooded portions of the city.
"We knew we had water and that we were in trouble," says Capt. Tim Bayard, commander of the narcotics and vice division. "So I sent my guys out in their trucks to take the trailer balls off any truck they saw with a trailer ball. Then we went out and got boats."
The tactical team and the narcotics and vice officers rallied at Harrah's Casino on the high ground on the banks of the Mississippi River. They made the casino their operations center. Then they set out to make boat rescues in the Ninth Ward.
But first, they had to find a route into the Ward through city streets that were blocked with rubble and fallen trees. Debris had to be chainsawed out of the way and large trees had to be towed off the road by trucks with chains.
On the ramps leading down from Interstate 10, the tac team and the narcotics officers launched their boats. Once in the water, the officers navigated their craft down flooded streets, steering around debris and sunken vehicles. It was in a word, hairy.
It was even hairier when they got to the Ninth Ward. "It was very, very bad," says Winn. "Our guys had to cut through rooftops to get to people. We destroyed seven or eight chainsaws in the first day cutting through roofs."
The officers, firefighters, and civilians who were involved in the boat rescues in the Ninth Ward had to do a lot more than just float up to a house and help people into a boat. Many of the people they were rescuing wouldn't or couldn't swim, and they would not get in the water to board the boats.
So the emergency personnel on the boats had to jump in the water and swim the hurricane victims to safety. NOPD tactical officers even had to swim underwater to breach one dwelling, then bring the family through that underwater doorway, back up to the surface, and into the boats.
The boat rescues continued for about13 days, running even at night through the darkened and dangerous streets. Officers used large hunting Q beams and their personal flashlights to illuminate the operations.
A month later, Bayard marvels at what his narcotics and vice officers were able to accomplish. "What we knew about boat rescue operations you could fit in a thimble," Bayard says. "We didn't know anything about that. We had never done it before. But we knew we had to do it to save people."
All Hell Breaks Loose
Before, during, and after the storm, the NOPD had to cope with looting. After the storm and the flooding, it got a lot worse.
Desperate people broke into convenience and grocery stores looking for food, water, diapers, and medications. Hoodlums looted firearm, home entertainment, and jewelry stores.
Bryson and his Fifth District officers pulled back from the Ninth Ward after an early 23-hour shift. They stopped for a brief respite at the Port of Embarkation, a U.S. Naval base, then they moved to the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street.
"We thought we were going to get to the hotel and be able to get some down-time," says Bryson. "But the minute we hit Canal Street, it was a mess. There was looting everywhere."
Bryson's officers immediately shifted gears from evacuation and rescue to looting suppression. "We didn't stop them from taking food," Bryson says. "But if we saw them coming out of Foot Locker with a bag of tennis shoes, then we took that and ran them up the street."
One of the problems that the NOPD faced with the looting after Hurricane Katrina was that it really couldn't make any arrests. The municipal holding facilities and the Orleans Parish jails were either inaccessible or flooded. All they could do was take the names and addresses of suspected looters, and tell them that they could be served warrants for looting sometime in the future.