New Orleans Voices: Clarice B.

This interview is the first in a series of oral histories AlterNet will post from a survivor of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans. These accounts were recorded by Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History and Memory Project, an all-volunteer witnessing effort led by poet Abe Louise Young. To read other testimonies and to find out more about Alive in Truth, visit Alive In Truth.org.

Clarice B. is a health care worker who lived in New Orleans' Ninth Ward for 66 years. She waited on the I-10 overpass for five days before being evacuated to Austin, Texas. Clarice has traveled from Texas to Mississippi and is now residing temporarily in a hotel room in Georgia.

Clarice B.: I'm from New Orleans, Louisiana and I was caught into the storm. I never thought New Orleans would have done us the way they done us. I didn't realize what was going on until maybe the third day after I was trying to get out of that place they would not let us out. I was on top of the Interstate, the Interstate in front to the Superdome and some guys came along in an Ozone Water truck and picked up a lot of people and we got near as far as getting out. They turned us around with guns. The army turned us around with guns. Policemen. And I realized then that they really was keeping us in there.

And you want me to tell you the truth, my version of it? They tried to kill us. When you keep somebody on top of the Interstate for five days, with no food and water, that's killing people. And there ain't no ands, ifs, or buts about it, that was NOPD [New Orleans Police Department] killing people. Four people died around me. Four. Diabetes. I am a diabetic and I survived it, by the grace of God, but I survived it. But they had people who were worse off than me, so, and they didn't make it. Old people. One young woman couldn't survive it because of the dehydration. So I mean, this is what you call NOPD murder. Murder. That's what I call it. What else would you call it?

Look, I was on top of the Interstate. Five days, okay? Helicopters at night shining a light down on us. They know we was there. Policemen, the army, the whole nine yards, ambulance passing us up like we wasn't nothing. Drove by and by all day. At night when they got ready to pull out, they pulled out and left us in darkness.

We was treated worse than an animal. People do leave a dog in a house, but they do leave him food and water. They didn't do that. And that's sad.

It was horrible. It was horrible. I mean, look. It was something like 100 degrees out there. It is hot. I was by myself. ... I live on Forstall. That's the Ninth Ward. The lower Ninth Ward. I live around the corner from Holy Cross School. And I left from there, which was that Sunday. And I went by my friend's, upstairs in a house in which I thought I was getting off of the lower area ground. But the water kept rising, downstairs from his house. So the boat came and picked us up: neighbors in the neighborhood, was trying to evacuate as many people as they can.

I took nothing but my pocket book, my slippers. And I had a little small overnight case. I thought I was going to come back on the next day. That was my thought, but I was wrong.

And of course I had to leave my birds and my dog. Of course I didn't want to. But I didn't have no other choice. Didn't have a choice. So I brought my dogs and my bird to as far as I could bring them. And I left them there upstairs. And I'm hoping I can retrieve them. I'm hoping. I have to call the SPCA or somebody. I left them upstairs on the deck, and I think if they was captured I should get them back. I'm hoping, anyway. I had a little Chihuahua. He was 9 months old. I had five birds. Two parakeets and two cockatiels. And my cockatiels just had a baby bird which was five weeks old. So you know I'm heartbroken. But again, my life was more important at that moment. ...

I brought my animals as far as I could bring them. And the man wouldn't let them on the boat. I understand that, because they had other people too. Which I'm glad for, because on the Interstate they wouldn't have survived. We didn't have no water. And when we did get the water, if it's real hot out there, you're drinking hot, hot, hot water. But I mean a little hot water even cleans your thirst.

Now why our Mayor and government did this I'll never understand it. I never would understand what happened to New Orleans. That is really a disaster.

Nobody would never believe it until you get into that situation. I go to bed one night with everything that I needed, and wake up the next morning with nothing.

It's very disturbing. And you know what. What, today is the 15th [of September]? I still don't have nowhere to go. I haven't made up my mind where I want to live. I have to start somewhere after FEMA get through paying us money. That little money ain't gonna last us long. They only gave us $2000. And how long is $2000 gonna last you, if you got to have living expense?

[...]

I've lived in my house 20 years. Twenty years. And I mean you tell somebody you gotta start a whole new life -- I'm 55 years old. Why would I want to start all over again? If I'm 55 feeling this way, how you think someone is feeling at 80 or 70?

I'm telling you, it's a mess. They don't realize what they done. I mean, they really messed up New Orleans real bad. ...Who can you blame this on, who can you blame this on, who? Nobody don't want to take the blame for this. Nobody. I mean, I've been living in New Orleans all my life. And who would have thought that New Orleans would have did their people this? Who would have thought this? We pay taxes like everybody else. So why we have to be treated like this?

I have two brothers in New Orleans, I had a granddaughter staying in New Orleans, but my granddaughter's in DC right now. But where my two brothers at I don't know. I couldn't tell you I don't know. But I'm going to get in contact with them as soon as all this here chaos calms down a little bit.

They took me to Elysian Fields and Claiborne. I walked from Elysian Fields and Claiborne on the Interstate all the way to the superdome. I walked on top of the bridge and, oh, thousands of people up on top of that bridge! I was surprised. I didn't have no idea there was that many people in New Orleans. Didn't have no idea.

They wouldn't let me in the Superdome. They say all kinds of things were going on in the Superdome. A lot of things were going on in the Convention Center. I wasn't there so I think I was in a safe spot.

I got food and water maybe that Thursday. It was like three days. The guys had to wind up going to get the Kentwood water trucks. Walk everywhere for people to get water. That's the only way we were going to survive. All kind of guys were going down there to the Ozone water getting their trucks. That was just a regular guy was trying to make people survive. And what else do you expect for them to do? You can't call that stealing.

And they went down there and got those trucks and gave everybody water. And as far as food, they broke in stores, I don't know where they got the barbeque grill from! (laughing) But we might have been having a picnic up on top of that bridge. I mean, we even had pepper and salt. Hamburgers, hot dogs, we had it. But that was a survival. That's all that was about, surviving. And I don't blame the guys. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have had anything to eat.

Finally, whoever, the helicopters started taking us six at a time, bringing us to Kenner Airport. And from the airport we landed here in Austin.

It's my first time in Texas. It's great. It was like paradise when I got here. ... Because like I said, I have never in my life slept on the Interstate. And I'm 55 years old. I've never slept on the Interstate on the ground in my life. I never been homeless before. So when you never been there and you just got there, overnight, that's a shocking thing. Shocking thing. I mean, you got homeless people everywhere, all around the world. They, for them, they used of it. But for me, I'm not used of it. And a lot of other people not used of it.

... If I explained somebody, how did I get in this situation, I couldn't tell you. 'Cause I don't know, 'cause I didn't ask to be here. I'm not here 'cause I want to be, I'm here 'cause I was forced. But now I'm concerned about: everybody in New Orleans, their homes are destroyed, what is they gonna do for us? Now that's a good question. I would like to know what they're gonna do for us. You know, I mean, start a new life, where? With what? What they gonna do for us? They gotta do something.

. ... You know, it's wrong. You don't go to bed one night with something and wake up and you don't have nothing. Because someone made a mistake, which is ... I don't think this is a mistake. This been coming on for years. They should have done something about that levee for years. I think it's horrible.

How can you help somebody when we all in the same old boat? All you could do [on the Interstate] was make each other comfortable as possible, for which we had nothing ... I mean, if someone cry, all you could say was, "Everything gonna be all right." We know it's not going to be all right but we gonna make it all right. That's right. And another thing: they know all those peoples on top of the Interstate. Why they couldn't get the outdoor toilet? We didn't have but one outdoor toilet for over 2,000 people.

They was having people use the bathroom all on top of the Interstate. I mean, what they gonna do, they didn't have but one outdoor toilet? Oh, they don't want to talk about that. They wants to claim that we live like animals, so they going to treat us like animals? I don't live like no animals.

Oh yes. I'll tell the President that. Oh, yeah! How in the world you gonna get on TV "Yeah, they got some of them in Austin, Texas. They got some of them in Houston. Some of them is in Dallas. Yeah, [the evacuees are] all right now." But, why they know we all right? How they know we all right? You still sleeping around thousands of people and you not at your house. That's not being comfortable. What the hell they talking about? You know, you [the President] don't get on the TV and talk about how comfortable I am. You don't know that. I'm not used to sleeping around no thousands of people. That's not comfort.

I'm used to my house. I had a eight-room house. Two bath. A living room, kitchen, bath, and a washroom and three bedrooms. I was comfortable in my house with my five birds and my little dog. And a car and a truck. Wasn't new but it was mine. Didn't have to pay no car note on the truck. All that's gone.

I worked all my life. I worked all my life for Metropolitan Homecare for 28 years: homecare, nurse's assistant. I took care of a lot of people in my life, a lot of people. I was good at my job, oh, yeah. It's not a clean job and it's not no dirty, dirty job. But no job is clean all the time, but it's a job. And I did good. I had to go to school: I went to school and wound up working in a nursing home. And then I started working in different hospitals and home care popped up and uh, what year I started with Metropolitan? I think I started with them in 1976, 75, somewhere in that bracket. I had some lovely patients, I'm telling you, I miss them so much. We used to have a good time.

[...]

I do know one thing, I appreciate what Austin has done for me and all of us, and I'm talking about all of New Orleans. Because Austin took in everybody. And I appreciate everyone who done send us a donation. To help us out. I thank them very much, very much. And it's coming from my heart and I know I'm blessed. I am blessed, you know, to have the world think about you and that is a good feeling. The whole world. I ain't thought I was going to be that important!
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