One year ago today, my friend Greg Beuerman awoke in New Orleans to discover that the previous day’s hurricane had become a grisly horror story come true, rather than merely a one-day scare.
For the next four days, Greg became what so many other Louisianans became, yet what so few are credited with being: heroes. I relate his story not merely to credit him (although I do indeed intend to do that, too), but to help set the record straight about the vast majority of the fellow citizens of my wonderful native city of New Orleans.
Until Dateline NBC devoted a moving, accurate, and much-appreciated hour to it last Friday, far too little national attention had been paid to the prevalence of community spirit, of neighbor helping neighbor, in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history.
It was Dateline, though, that made me want to write about Greg, because Greg was at the scene — Lindy Boggs Medical Center — that Dateline described in its heart-wrenching account of doctors and critically ill patients working against the odds to survive without fresh running water and without electricity to keep the lights on, the rooms cool, the refrigerated medicines safe, the ventilators operating and the dialysis machines in order.
Greg Beuerman is a one-time executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party (two decades ago) who now runs a consulting firm that specializes in crisis communications management. With Katrina bearing down on New Orleans, Greg figured that at least one member of his firm should stay on site in case any of his many port- and Gulf-based clients needed post-storm help. By invitation, he set up shop at a famously sturdy apartment building that once housed a plant of the American Can Company. The storm passed on a Monday, and that night he and others happily played cards on the roof and tried to guess when the then-only-mild flooding of their parking lot would go away.
Of course, Greg woke up the next morning to a steadily worsening disaster. Water, water everywhere, of course (and not a drop to drink, or to bathe in). And no phone or other contact with the outside world.
Two Cajuns from Jeanerette, La., like angels of mercy, showed up in bass boats. They had driven to the New Orleans suburb of Kenner, slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and then boated in on Tuesday morning to see if they could help. Greg hitched a ride, and the three of them spent all day trying to rescue people from a mostly African-American neighborhood inundated with floodwaters. One problem: Confusion. The rumor spread that National Guardsmen would be coming to pick up people on the Dumaine Street Bridge over Bayou St. John, so that’s where Greg and the Cajuns took a bunch of them — but the rumor was wrong.
“After three or four hours of those folks standing out there,” Greg said, “it became apparent that there were no National Guard troops coming and it became apparent these people had given up shaded quarters just to stay in the blazing hot sun. They eventually all went back to their houses to wait for a verifiable rescue resource. It turned out that just moving them from one place to another was not really a rescue; it was the difference between motion and progress.”
But what became clear in the course of that progress-less motion was that a sense of community, not of savagery, reigned:
“Overwhelmingly, the people that I interacted with were grateful, cooperative, and happy to have some help and some leadership. OVERwhelmingly. The outpouring of gratitude, for what a run-of-the-mill volunteer like me was trying to do, was just tremendous. The first day we had people offering us cold drinks and food and shade, giving back to us what they could afford to give. At first it was obvious there were lots of teenage boys and men who should have been secondary for rescue who were getting in front of older people and sick people — but we put a stop to that quickly. We took women with small children and the sick first — and once we asked people to do it our way, everybody quickly seemed to understand and very quickly there were no complaints.
“And there was no shortage of sporadic assistance. I would say there were hundreds of people who saw something that needed doing, and they did it for a period of time. We had one particularly large woman, maybe 400 pounds, and we had a great deal of difficulty lifting her off her porch. People who were watching jumped into water up to their necks and swam over to help us. There were a lot of folks who pitched in when they saw something specific that needed to be done.”
Greg went back to the Can Company that night, hoping things would get better the next day. No luck. And the Cajuns from Jeanerette had to leave. What to do?
Well, the Lindy Boggs hospital was several long blocks away. Surely it needed assistance. So that’s where Greg went — wading, slogging, through a horrid, potentially dangerous, chest-deep stew of water and muck. As Dateline reported, it was on that day, Wednesday, that helicopter rescue teams finally began to reach the hospital. Or, rather, to reach a grassy bank, two blocks from the hospital, that bordered Bayou St. John. A doctor had commandeered a nearby skiff, and hospital staff were trying to ferry patients — some of them critically ill — and their family members to the sporadically arriving choppers. But the scene at the grassy rise was bedlam. It needed organization. And few healthy bodies were available to unload the patients from the skiff, onto the rise, to wait for the choppers. Nor to help the firemen on the choppers to load the patients into the whirlibirds. Well, Greg handles crises for a living. This seemed like a job for him.
All day long it was unload the patients, load them up, organize them, try to enlist healthy neighborhood people to help the sick instead of trying to board the helicopters themselves, unload more patients…and then, in what Dateline was later to describe in heartbreaking detail, came the sickening shock of shocks, what Greg called “an especially disheartening time.” The firemen wanted to keep flying all night, but their superiors ordered them away at dark. At least 30 patients, some of them in what Greg called “really bad shape,” had thought they were getting out that day. Instead, they had to be reloaded, in the twilight, onto the skiff, ferried back to the dark and sweltering hospital, and unloaded there. That, too, became Greg’s job. It was late, late, really late when, with nothing else to do, Greg waded back through the grimy water back to the Can Company.
Only, on Thursday morning, to go back to the hospital again as the choppers finally returned.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?