Home > Police force citizens from their homes, shoots their dogs
Police force citizens from their homes, shoots their dogsby Open-Publishing - Sunday 11 September 2005
ST. BERNARD PARISH, La. - "All Our Visitors Bring Happiness," reads the wrought iron sign on the front column of Albert Cousin’s 102-year-old Victorian house.
Sheriff’s deputies in body armor and holding rifles came to try to force Cousin and other residents of St. Bernard Parish to get out of town.
For the past few days, residents have found comfort in food and water brought by units of the Georgia National Guard, who arrived Labor Day weekend. The roughly 160 members of the 190th MP Company from Kennesaw and the 178th MP Company from Monroe have passed out rations. Some of them ran a checkpoint and provided security at a barracks for their colleagues Wednesday as others transported Navy SEAL teams aiding rescue efforts.
Such efforts were necessary in low-lying coastal St. Bernard, hit hard by the storm and now suffering pollution from refinery products, sewage and bodies. Survivors were still being found Wednesday, and recovery officials are encountering grim scenes: Thirty people died at a flooded nursing home in St. Bernard, and state Rep. Nita Hutter said the staff had left the elderly residents behind in their beds.
With such efforts under way, the rousting of residents was left to deputies from neighboring parishes, and law enforcement members from as far away as Oklahoma City.
The forced eviction of stubborn occupants of this parish, the first community downriver from New Orleans, is more aggressive than similar efforts in the city. Though New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said late Tuesday that he was ordering troops and police to force residents to leave, National Guard officials said they didn’t take orders from the mayor. And they plan to continue providing food and water to people found in their homes.
Even the city police superintendent equivocated, saying so many still need to be rescued and evacuated that officials don’t have time to drag people into boats or armored troop carriers.
Though state law gives officials the right to "compel the evacuation" of cities and parishes, police said they realized it would be a public relations disaster to march people from their homes at gunpoint. Still, a National Guard official said they would help New Orleans police if they decided to take on the stubbornest of the survivors.
Despite such political wrangling in the city, cops in St. Bernard Parish made it clear Wednesday that they weren’t interested in taking no for an answer. Nor were they taking dogs they deemed too big or dangerous.
That left forced evacuee Marie Miller on the verge of tears.
"They shot our dogs!" Miller, a 54-year-old housewife, said of her mixed pit bulls, Angel and Hooch. She had gone inside to collect clothes and personal papers when she heard it.
"Boom! Boom!" Miller said. "Hooch came in and had blood all over him."
Miller, husband William and 20-year-old daughter Shannon were taken to a local warehouse dubbed Camp Katrina, where they received tetanus shots and other medical treatment from Mid Georgia Ambulance Co. of Macon, Ga., a private company that volunteered to help.
Shannon sat on her red Marlboro duffel bag, clutching her Chihuahua, Sassy, who was small enough to save. Crying, she recalled what had happened less than an hour before. She didn’t see the shot. She just knew it was to Angel’s head.
At Camp Katrina the Millers were greeted by relief personnel as well as a country music star.
"Shannon! Shannon! It’s Tim McGraw," Miller told her daughter.
"I don’t care anything about that," Shannon said, holding on to Sassy and walking to the back of the warehouse for water.
Cousin, his guests and his dogs fared better than the Millers.
He has owned his home since 1967, decorating it with Oriental rugs, imported chandeliers and French provincial furniture. His 93-year-old mother lives upstairs. He has water and military rations provided by the Georgia National Guard, and places for his flooded-out friends to sleep.
The 61-year-old florist loves his house, but his most cherished belongings are his Lab and border collie mix dogs, Rose and Iris.
"This is like a ball and chain when they tell you to leave," said Cousin, motioning to his house.
It explains why he didn’t evacuate last week, when Katrina still loomed in the Gulf of Mexico.
Deputies told Cousin that if he and his guests were still there the next time the police returned, they’d be shackled and taken away.
Heeding the threat, they borrowed a truck and headed for a relative’s rental home in Shreveport.
On Angela Street, where Cousin lives, armed deputies knocked on every door. Half the parish is underwater, and people are still being rescued.
Shortly after Cousin was told to leave, officials saved a 72-year-old woman down the street.
"She was inside and rode the storm out in her attic," said Oklahoma County Deputy Mike Clausen. The inside of her home was flooded by 7 feet of water. She’d been trapped for nine days and emerged weak and thirsty.
The woman clutched a water bottle in one hand and her toothbrush and a tube of Crest in the other as she was driven in the back of a troop carrier to a makeshift medical triage center in an oil refinery office building.
Last week, thankful residents came down from their attics or were rescued from rooftops. But on Tuesday and Wednesday, few people Mike Murray encountered had interest in leaving.
"A lot of them are reluctant," said Murray, a 45-year-old sergeant with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department, which has been using flatboats to extract victims. Murray stood watch in the wrecked parking lot of Tire Kingdom, near the line between St. Bernard and the city of New Orleans.
"They’re grown. They can make their own decisions," Murray said, explaining why 35 to 40 people were left alone in the Arabi community.
John Maddox’s decision is to stay.
Maddox, a former Atlantan, would not abandon his English bulldog, Isabelle. Soon after the gang murder of his daughter in Atlanta, his parents died. He moved to the area to help care for friend Bill Seeser, who was suffering from throat cancer that’s since gone into remission. The flood took everything - except Isabelle.
All things considered, Katrina’s wake was "like water off a duck’s back," said Maddox, former vice president of a temporary employment agency in Atlanta.
But it wasn’t easy getting through the week.
The morning Katrina hit, Maddox and Seeser watched the water flood their two-story house.
"Looking out the window was like looking out an aquarium," Seeser said.
Reaching 8 feet, the water forced them upstairs. After the storm passed, they dived down and fished cans of Barq’s root beer, corn and beans from the pantry. When they reached the water’s surface, they ferried their supplies atop a gilded gold picture frame that held an oil painting of the French Quarter. It became their lifeboat.
Trapped upstairs, Maddox leaned out the window and blew an SOS on an 1865 antique Army bugle. Toot-toot-toot. Tooooot-tooooot-tooooot. Toot-toot-toot.
Two days later, civilian rescuers finally reached them. After a stop at an emergency shelter, Maddox and Seeser arrived at Cousin’s house.
They’ve been living off supplies dropped off by Guardsmen. Bread has gone moldy. There’s no ice for the 15-quart cooler. A comfortable breeze blows from the open back door through the open front door. They’re washing clothes in an above-ground swimming pool.
But that relative comfort ended Wednesday when law enforcement rolled in, packing heat and bad news.
Time to go.
These visitors did not bring happiness.
Marlon Manuel writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail: email@example.com