Free Newmexican: S.F. man recounts chaos in the Dome
The MSM is asking, "Where in the hell was FEMA in New Orleans?"
The Answer - Right There!
" Paramedic's N.M. team stays behind to treat storm victims Article Dated 9 September, 2005
You would think Greg Hesch, a critical-care paramedic from Eldorado, would have seen it all by now. Since he joined the New Mexico Disaster Medical Assistance Team in 1989, he has chased mayhem all over the country.
Hesch dove into Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In 2001, he witnessed the shock in New York after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. These are just the big ones in a long line of disasters where he has been called to the rescue.
But when Hesch stepped into the world of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans 11 days ago, he found unusual, unsettling things. First, the obvious: The catastrophic damage was incomparable to anything he'd seen before.
Hesch -- one of 35 people in a self-contained, federally funded team from New Mexico -- arrived in New Orleans at 3 a.m. Aug. 30 with 20 tons of supplies. Without a wink of sleep, the group set up treatment tents in the Louisiana Superdome, which was packed with tens of thousands of refugees.
But between 9 and 10 a.m., their plans were quickly altered. "We had people running through screaming that the levy just broke, and we had to evacuate," Hesch said in a telephone interview from Louisiana on Thursday.
Usually a hurricane rips through a town in one day, and then the next is sunny and dry. Not in New Orleans, which Hesch described as a bowl that filled up with dirty water.
As the water rose, so did the group of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and emergency technicians from New Mexico. They fled to the bleachers and then to the third level of the Superdome.
Hesch was dumbfounded by what he saw around him. Disaster teams from other states evacuated.
"It was very unique because they were yelling for us to get on the bus," Hesch said.
But Mike Richards, an Albuquerque doctor who heads the team, replied, "No! New Mexico isn't going anywhere!"
Alone, the New Mexico team -- and one doctor from New Orleans -- set up a full-scale acute medical-care clinic by 11 a.m. in the basketball and hockey arena, which is connected to the Superdome by a causeway. The sick and injured from the Superdome came to them. Some had head injuries. Some had gunshot wounds. Some had cuts on their bodies from walking through the water-filled streets. Some had gone cold turkey off their medications.
In the space of 40 hours, the staff treated 800 to 1,000 patients. Hesch said he sutured wounds under the light of his headlamp.
Sleep was impossible. One time, when Hesch and the team stretched out on the floor in the sports club to nap, low air pressure in the building triggered the alarm system. Strobe lights flashed, sirens blared and a recorded voice said, "Please, do not use the elevator."
"It quite literally was like a set from Hollywood," Hesch said in a hoarse voice. "It was like a lightning storm of strobe lights."
The staff disabled the alarms and the voice speaker, but they could not stop the strobes.
More startling for Hesch were the attitudes of the refugees in New Orleans. "I saw both ends of the spectrum and not much in between. Either they were ramping up and getting angry and wanting your stuff or they were very helpful," he said. "It's not really something I've ever seen before."
In other disasters where Hesch has worked, people pulled tightly together as a community. But New Orleans didn't seem to know how to do that. "The Dome turned into a den of depravity at some point," he said, noting reports of rapes and people beaten to death.
Some screamed at Hesch, "You should give me your cell phone!" Others demanded to know, "Where are all the resources?" He told them the break in the levees and the heavily populated city had created a difficult problem.
Hesch, luckily, met a few of what he calls "salt of the earth" people who kept him from losing faith in humankind. Two brothers who cleaned up the wreckage. A quadriplegic man in a wheelchair who took care of his cantankerous 84-year-old mother. A circle of people singing hymns.
"That was uplifting, but the rest of the time was like walking in a tiger's den," Hesch said.
In the midst of chaos, Hesch noticed a missing ingredient that could have helped. "Usually martial law is imposed so order is maintained," Hesch said. "Here, we did not have that."
The National Guardsmen deployed to New Orleans were young, inexperienced and not intimidating, he said. By contrast, at Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the 82nd Airborne Special Forces carried locked and loaded AK-47s at all times, with the National Guard in strong force, he said.
A former Air Force guy himself, Hesch and other ex-military members of the team planned to set up a defense perimeter and "fight to the end," if the situation grew dangerous.
That didn't happen.
By Aug. 31, the Federal Emergency Management Agency told the exhausted New Mexico team it was time to leave. "You guys are just incredible but you're pushing it way too far," Hesch recalls FEMA telling the crew.
Before he left New Orleans, Hesch was confounded once again. A FEMA convoy from California had come under attack. People threw rocks at it.
Upon advice of others, the New Mexico team removed all signs that connected its vehicles to FEMA. "They told us, 'Be careful not to run over any dead bodies, and keep this as quiet as possible,' " Hesch said.
It wasn't a slow drive out.
Now located at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, the New Mexico team works with the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team and the Louisiana Department of Health to treat patients at another makeshift hospital. It's one of the largest field operations ever set up in the United States, according to Richards.
On Wednesday, FEMA recognized the New Mexico team, the Illinois team and the Louisiana Department of Health for doing an outstanding job. And team members celebrated with a water-balloon fight.
As New Mexicans sort out the mess from afar, Hesch has a few insights he'd like to share: "I would tell people to be patient with their government and understanding because this is the nation's biggest disaster, bar none."
Hesch said he is disgusted that some Americans, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, are claiming that relief didn't come quickly because New Orleans has a large black population.
"It had nothing to do with race," Hesch said. "It had to do with the fact that New Orleans exists 12 feet below sea level. That is the big problem."
The other big problem, he said, were the high numbers of people trapped in the disaster. He said the city of New Orleans should have organized a more persuasive evacuation, using school buses and other means."
As I said here, the response of FEMA was better than in recent storms. They WERE there, but this was a catastrophe like no other. Note the mention of the buses - the BUSES The TRUTH is that the Government was there, the MSM didn't report this story, but they were there - IN FORCE - which means "YOU'VE BEEN LIED TO".
It's time to stop the BS of the MSM, and get the truth out about what happen. Consider this a call from an old 'war-horse' to conservative bloggers everywhere - "Charge!".
Michelle Malkin with some more "post mortems", and on MSM liberal bias.
Linked with Wizbang - on the liberal lunancy concerning Katrina.
Filed under Katrina disaster relief new orleans emergency response FEMA
Free Newmexican: S.F. man recounts chaos in the Dome