I live in a suburb of New Orleans, Louisiana. During Hurricane Katrina I worked in the central business district of New Orleans. I am one of the people that were called into work on Sunday, August 28, 2005 as hurricane Katrina approached southeast Louisiana. Because of this, I could not evacuate and rode out Katrina in downtown New Orleans.
I have always thought I knew what I needed to know and could survive most disasters, both natural and manmade. I was sadly mistaken.
When disasters strike, you are sometimes left without any governmental and/or electricity, gas, sewage or potable water services that we are used to for hours, days, sometimes weeks. For the people that did not or could not evacuate New Orleans during and after hurricane Katrina, we did not have any assistance for two weeks and public utilities for much longer than that. We were on our own, totally.
Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area on the morning of Monday, August 29, 2005. At that time, we lost all public utilities, even natural gas. Because we did not have electricity Monday night, the City of New Orleans was in total darkness.
Looting started within hours after the winds died down. Society broke down quicker than anyone had expected. We heard shooting in every direction around us. The looting lasted for days. Both stores and residences were looted.
We learned the first night that when we lit Coleman lanterns or used any form of light, that light could be seen for miles. The light attracted many roaming people. These people, who did not evacuate and who did not have any emergency supplies, wanted assistance from us. They were used to the government taking care of them. At this point in time, the government was nowhere to be found. We had just enough supplies to take care of our needs, as we had planned. We did not have anything to spare. We were not a government aid agency. Needless to say, things got fairly tense.
This is one of the lessons that we relearned quickly. We had to black out the windows and be very careful with any light we generated.
Then we were presented with another problem. It was the middle of summer in New Orleans. With all of the windows and doors covered, there was no outside air circulating. It got VERY hot, VERY quickly.
So how does this apply to you?
During a major disaster, natural or manmade, the people who do not have will want the supplies that they need from the people that do have. They will use ANY and ALL means to get it the supplies they need.
If you doubt this, let me present you with a situation.
You and your family are on vacation. You are in a city far away from home. While in that city, a major disaster occurs. All routes out of that city have been cut. You cannot get out. You cannot expect any help for the foreseeable future. You are on your own. You have none of the supplies that you need. No food and the city water system is contaminated.
Your family has not had anything to eat or drink for three days. You are holding your crying seven year old daughter in your arms. She is crying holding onto you saying that she is thirsty and hungry. Your wife looks at you and asks what you are we going to do? My question to you is, what wouldn’t you do to get your family something to eat and drink? If you see a light in a building, would you go to that building to see if you could get food and/or water from the people there? If the people would not help, would you be willing to use force to take what your family needed to survive? Would you be willing to break in to a house or business, whose occupants have evacuated, to take what your family needed?
Are you now a looter or just attempting to obtain supplies to survive?
On the other hand, if you were the person with the light on and could not evacuate and have the supplies you needed, what would you be willing to do to defend your supplies in order that your family has something to eat and drink? How far would you be willing to go to protect your supplies?
You are the one that planned ahead and stored what you needed. Do you give some of your supplies away and possibly short your family of what they may need? Would your wife pressure you to give away some of your supplies to help their crying children in need? Now the people without supplies know where to go to attempt to get future supplies.
Also, what if those people that you helped tell their relatives and/or friends where they got their handouts.
A portable generator can be heard for a long distance when the electricity is out and nothing is moving. If you needed food and water and heard a generator running several blocks away, would you head to the generator noise to attempt to get what you needed.
If you are planning on cooking ANYTHING, how far do you think the smell of the food will carry, especially if the people that are doing the smelling have not had anything to eat in days!
Now I will give you something else to think about. Post Katrina, we saw many signs in the New Orleans area that said, You loot, we shoot! If you use deadly force on someone that is only looting and your life or the life of someone else is NOT in danger, when civilization and the government come back and order regains, will you be charged with murder?
So what do you do?
I cannot answer that question for you. You might want to pose this situation to your county prosecutor or personal attorney so you know the legal answer before you have this situation present itself during a disaster. You also need to sit down with your wife and family and discuss this before a disaster. You are the one that will have to live with your decisions during and after a disaster.
By the way… for those of you that live far away from the cities and think you are safe and secure: Just before Katrina hit southeast Louisiana, the a lot of the people evacuated that lived there. Would you like to guess where they went? The answer is, EVERY WHERE in a four state area around Louisiana. There was no city or county that did not have evacuates in their area.
Just think what the rural areas of this United States would be like if it was a nationwide disaster. How long would it be before the farming communities were inundated with hungry people? How many people are planning on hunting and fishing post disaster? How long before all of the game is depleted or gun battles break out because someone is using someone’s favorite hunting or fishing spot?
If you live in a rural area and do not live around anyone, you had better have a good security warning system set up to let you know if anyone approaches where you are. At least in the suburbs you can form a neighborhood watch group. Place two persons, not related, on a roving patrol for two hour periods. Then have them relieved by two other people for the next two hour period through every 24 hour period, day and night.
After a major disaster, cover your windows and doors at night so that no light escapes through them or do not generate any light at all, this also includes camp fires, unless you want to attract all types of people. If you have to turn on a light, do what the military does, use a red filter on your light.
One of the best things you can do is, DO NOT tell anyone, now or during a disaster, what supplies you have. If you think a good friend or neighbor would not turn on you if their family needs what you have, you are sadly mistaken.
Also remember, the people with firearms make the rules and will take what they need from people who do not have firearms. If you buy a firearm, get instructions from a well-qualified instructor on a regular basis and practice!
Remember, if someone tells you, “We are from the government and we are here to help”, RUN!
I live about 30 mins from a major city, and have considered how that affects my sheltering in place plan. We could be overrun by city dwellers, its a fact. That is why we are looking at moving further out. I very much appreciate this post, Rourke.
Coach, great article with a lot of information to think about. I think that WWII could teach us a lot about using black out curtains. This was very common even mandatory in the UK during the war. As to if I would share food and water with a starving family, that really is a tough question. I would like to think that I would share at least some for the small kids but the adults probably not. It’s not that I am cold or unfeeling but I don’t want to short my family either. Really tough question!!! MRE’s don’t really have a smell and cooking odors would be a big problem, how many times have you walked outside and smelled someone cooking bacon or BBQ? Given me a lot to think about.
Thanks for the great article and thought provoking questions.
It gets worse. Many folks think they can shelter in and defend what they have by sheer force. In today’s world, technology prevails. Because of the ending conflicts in the Middle East, there is lots of liberated night vision, and even some thermal vision, floating around in the hands of folks who wouldn’t normally have them. This makes the playing field uneven, unless you also have them too. Most will say “I can’t afford such things” and rightfully so. But you had better at least know how they work, and what they can or cannot do, or you’ll be at a tremendous disadvantage.
Nothing defense-wise is foolproof, but knowledge is power in your favor.
Very much a “reminder” post for all of America. I (wifey) may sound callous, but I remember them “dancing in the street” after Katrina and boasting that they had “survived”. Well, they did survive the initial onslaught. What they didn’t survive (at least not well) was the failure of the government levees, the government transportation, the government shelters, and the government food and water provisions. I am not prepared to give out anything. Even our family members know that they must have their own “stuff”. We have plans (but acknowledge that we haven’t done it yet) to cut plywood to size, paint it black & then paint what looks like window panes, and have them readily available to screw into pre-built frames on the inside of windows. To us this provides the blackout we’d need but also a measure of protection from thrown objects, and much more protection from a rifle than a black drape. One thing alot of people have in their homes are skylights…that might just shine a chimney straight into the air, even if all other windows are blacked out. As for cooking, that’s a good argument for canned goods that contain not only your food but a source of liquid….be it tin canned from store or canned in your own jars. They’ve already been cooked, and though not as tastey, are edible. We’ve discussed many, many times…do as the pioneers did. When it gets dark, go to bed…with a shotgun standing at your bedside. Having a sentry is good…and a good watch dog that won’t take off after the culprit, but stand with you prepared to defend you rather than assault an intruder while leaving you behind, and endangering your shot if they’re in the way.
great article. we evacuated to Alaska and have not returned. one reason is because the only element that came back or remained was not of the good side. our home was looted but it had 7 to 8 feet of water after so nothing much left to loot. along the way here to alaska, we saw tons of people broke down on the rode because they ran out of gas or something like that. once we hit Canada, it was smoothe sailing but the price of gas was sobering. i hope that you and your family have made your home solid again and that you all survive the next one that may come. we dont want to take the chance again.
Hi, steve! I know you are enjoying AK much more than Nawlins! Clean air, no fire ants or gators..not living on top of each other..having lived in Nawlins too many years, I’ve never been happier to leave a place, and I’ve lived in a lot of places. I still call it “purgatory”!!
One of the things we experienced here shortly after Katrina was law enforcement policing gas stations. Gasoline was rationed at 10 gallons per vehicle from the Gulf Coast to the upper 2/3 of the state, and both borders, east and west. There literally were law enforcement personnel at the open stations. Local news broadcast the message that if you arrived at a gas station with a gas can, your gas can would be confiscated. And they did it. Why? Because in other areas (not so closely watched), people who could find gas at stations were filling gas cans, traveling to stranded tourists, and selling it at ridiculously inflated prices. MS law enforcement was quick to step up and say, “no, you are not!”. A few people didn’t believe the order; they defied it; they went to jail. And they were not welcomed with warm, fuzzy greetings.
Central MS got a lot of the refugees from the coast and from Nawlins; we had many shelters operating, even though some areas here were without power for nearly a month. Some refugees stayed; most did not.
And then there was Houston who took in the Nawlins residents who refused to obey the mandatory evacuation order and found themselves stranded in the Dome, in spite of the fact that school buses were rodeo’ed in with the plan to get people out in them; instead, they sat idle and flooded WHEN THE LEVEE BROKE. Houston has already said, “never again”, and, who can blame them?
Remember: Mississippi took the direct hit from Katrina; this monster storm marched right up our state, starting as a Cat5. And the day after this monster literally wiped out two of our towns on the coast, leaving nothing but concrete foundations, Mississippians were at work, cleaning up the mess, and Gov. Haley Barber was there, working with the assessment teams.
And then there was the Burmese Python we found hanging from a pine tree in our back yard, having just eaten one our squirrels (in central MS!). No doubt, some fool had brought their pet this way with them and figured out there was no place to take it, so, they simply released it. We called Animal Control, but, by the time they arrived it was gone. These guys were so excited; they said, “if you see it again, call us; we’d really like to catch it!”. My answer? “If I see it again, you won’t want what’s left”. I wouldn’t go in my back yard for months without a loaded weapon! (I have furbabies and rescues, so, I have to protect them.)
MS has had a plan since 1969’s Camille; Mississippians were well-trained, knew what needed to be done, and simply went to work doing it. It’s what we do. Yes, there is an element of the “entitlement people” here; not nearly in the numbers per capita found in Nawlins.
Nope. We ain’t New Orleans. May it ever be so.
Servantheart, What I remember hearing the most about after Katrina was how badly New Orleans was destroyed. No, doubt it was but what outsiders heard very little about was Miss. was also badly damaged and hardly a word about it. You are correct in that Houston said never again, after the refugees were brought into Houston their crime rate exploded. This was a great example of how badly the federal government handles a situation. I absolutely hate to think what would happen if/when another situation likes this occurs. We are much less prepared as a nation as we were then. Lord forbid.
Well, that’s because Mississippians, by and large, take care of their own; we don’t sit around screaming for the Calvary; we ARE the Calvary. And we like it this way! ;)
Oklahoma is the same way, I live in Moore and we just picked up the mess after our tornadoes in May and moved on. They’re begging people to register with FEMA even now but not many taking them up on it I guess if they’re begging. ;)
Yep! Good people, those OK’s!!! ;)
I’m curious. Were any looters shot and killed in New Orleans during Katrina? What was done with their bodies? If we have to defend ourselves with deadly force during an emergency, we can’t just leave the bodies on our own front porch…
If they were, it was not reported as such. The gangs that generally rule in Nawlins without a disaster had a field day, of course, but, that was just more of the same ol’ same ol; and a lot of things don’t get reported in Nawlins every day. I WAS in a position to know.
I agree about the comments on Katrina damage in Mississippi not being in the news. My in-laws live in the southern part of Mississippi, about 2 hours from the coast. Even 120 miles inland Katrina really did a number on their land and town. They were without power or phone for 3 weeks, but were able to fend for themselves and family members through cooperation and sharing of responsibilities. Thankfully they had an airplane to pull gasoline from, a motorcycle to navigate the tree strewn roadways, a well and a generator to run the pump. Even today they talk about how they were not as well prepped with shelf stable food as they should have been and have told me numerous times about what we need to do “just in case” something like this should happen where I live up north. It was tragic what happened in their town – but the looting and crime of N.O. was crazy. We fly through N.O. to visit and the scars of the disaster are still visible on the route out to Slidell. Such a shame…