HOUSTON – The Hurricane Katrina death toll, once thought to possibly reach 10,000, is still uncertain. Yesterday, during a press conference in Houston, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said that the number will probably be in the thousands, but no reasonable estimate can yet be made.
“Our city has come under siege by natural forces more powerful than our nation has ever experienced,” Blanco said. “We can only hope the number of dead will stay in the hundreds.”
The number of survivors is more certain. About 1.5 million people escaped the wrath of the hurricane. Most of them have been relocated to other parts of the country. Here are some of their stories:
Ricky Hampton: Hampton has been a survivor since infancy. When Hurricane Bessie hit New Orleans in 1965, a strong wind burst through a window, lifted him up and pounded him against a wall.
“I was tough, though, so I made it,” he said.
He tested those survival skills just last week in the aftermath of Katrina, which he chose to ride out alone. Hampton stole a car to escape from the city. He said it was necessary but damaged his pride nevertheless.
“Everybody lost something,” he said. “If you didn’t lose your house, you lost your pride.” Hampton lost his house, too.
He counts himself lucky because all his friends and relatives survived. He has not yet heard directly from two of his sisters, but he said he knows they made it.
Hampton described the scene in New Orleans with one word:
“Water. Water everywhere,” he said, staring off into space. “All that water.”Water now covers about 80 percent of the city.
Reginald Robinson: Robinson, who also rode out the storm, said he believes Hurricane Katrina was part of God’s plan to rectify the corruption that he said had infested the city. “The Lord made a new plan,” he said.
“He’s trying to clean the city up. Many hurricanes have passed by us. This one happened for a reason.”
In the deeply religious South, many people have turned to God for comfort.
“Ministers of all faiths have reached out to help our people,” Blanco said. “Without the faith community, I don’t know if any of us would have made it.”
Robinson has put finding his wife into God’s hands. The two were separated when the hurricane hit, and he has not seen her since.
“I can just hope for the best.”
As Robinson was heading toward buses in a boat to flee the city, he saw a number of individuals looting. When asked to describe them, he just shook his head.
“If they want to act like animals, they’re going to get shot like animals,” he said, defending the police’s use of force. “The people there are still catching hell, but they’re there by choice.”
Like most hurricane victims, Robinson lost his house and almost everything. “People had it all, but now people ain’t got nothing,” he said.
James Knight: Even after the breakout of chaos in New Orleans, Knight did not want to leave the city. “I was forced to,” he said. When he finally left, the water was already waist-high in the streets.
“Everything in my house was wet, and it smelled horrible,” he said.
He escaped by walking to buses that transported him to Houston. On the way there, he saw people jumping off of bridges to commit suicide.
“They thought it was the end of the world,” he said.
The television stories and images cannot begin to do justice to the post-hurricane scene in New Orleans, Knight said.
“It’s something that you can’t imagine,” he said.
He is still missing his girlfriend, but says he has no doubt he will find her.
Walter Davis: After the storm, Davis emerged from the basement of his mother’s house to find the kitchen sink sitting in the middle of the backyard.
Later, he walked into a friend’s two-story home, looked up and saw nothing but sky.
On his way out of the city, riding in the back of a stranger’s truck, he said he saw dogs eating human corpses and law enforcement officers shooting rabid dogs before they had a chance to bite someone.
Wilford Jones: While waiting on a New Orleans bridge to be rescued for three days, Jones said he watched bodies floating by on the river of murky water below.
He also witnessed looting but said he could not understand what the looters were planning to do with the equipment after they had stolen it. He said they would be forced to leave and would have to leave the merchandise behind. Jones was careful to make a distinction between stealing water and food for your family and carrying stacks of DVD players out of Wal-Mart.
Tired of waiting on the bridge, Jones found a boat and floated to the Superdome, which housed thousands of stranded residents.
“We didn’t get no rescue,” he said,
“We were promised it, but we sure as hell didn’t get it.
After about a day at the Superdome, he boarded a bus for Houston.
“There was a lot of fighting and scuffling to get on the buses,” he said. “Some people were knocking old people down. It was terrible.”
A lot of the evacuees’ thoughts about the hurricane remained jumbled. Some said they haven’t had a chance to sort them out yet, to get them into some kind of logical order.
“I’m still confused,” Robinson said.
Most are willing to talk, but some protest politely.
“My head’s still spinning,” said a man in a wheelchair outside of Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center.