By Robert Mann
In the days after Hurricane Katrina in August-September 2005, then-Major Ed Bush of the Louisiana National Guard and a colleague, Sgt. Carlos Sanchez, took dozens of photographs of life inside the Louisiana Superdome, where they and hundreds of National Guard troops from Louisiana and other states lived as they provided security and care for approximately 40,000 New Orleans-area evacuees.
Bush, whose memories of that hellish week are featured in my most recent column for NOLA.com | Times-Picayune, shared with me these photographs, many which have never been published.
Below are several of the photos taken in and around the Dome that week with Bush’s descriptions of them:
Col. Ed Bush:
Some guy would walk up, “Look, my Auntie, she’s sick, she can’t walk, my dad broke his leg and the way here, he can’t walk so can I get – I’m just getting them for my whole family, I need 10 MREs.” And, then, they send somebody else up, and now they’ve got 20. And I get it, because they’re like, “We better take care of our own.” They’re just taking care of their families. We were absolutely controlling because we knew if we didn’t we’d run out, so we controlled water and we controlled food. But never did anyone miss a meal.
I mean we changed it a lot along the way. When we were in the Dome, we took golf carts and we delivered to the upper levels, to the general populations that could definitely move. We set up several points at gates and they just came and they got their food and we gave them one. Very quickly, you knew wherever the pockets and that some people were probably never going to make or a little scared to leave their spot, so we would try to kind of hit the far reaches. We would send soldiers with a cart-full and just say, “Go feed people.” If somebody came to me and said, “I didn’t get one,” I was going to give them one. I’m not going to call them on it. It’s not worth it.
Col. Ed Bush:
People were bringing their animals to the dome and we put them in a designated area. They had to leash them, they had to tie them. They could go visit them, but we kept the animals out of general population, for lack of a better term, and then we had a few guardsmen to volunteer just to go walk them, make sure they were doing okay.
We track it now, as a result of this. I give out a daily number that says how many people we’ve saved and how many animals we’ve saved as a lesson learned from Katrina. Our pilots have special training, our crews have special training, on how to deal with animals because then, as that helicopter picked you up, it was literally a matter of, Am I putting this kid on a helicopter or is this dog going on a helicopter? And our pilots absolutely said, “You can’t bring that animal on here.” Because there just wasn’t room and that’s sad, but I can remember saying in a press conference, “I understand that it rubs people the wrong way and I understand that I sounds cold but I’m telling you, people come first and in that situation where literally pilots are flying as fast as they can because he’s got a full load.”
Col. Ed Bush:
So we had a guy, he comes running up and he’s got this old lady on one of these luggage carts from the hotel he took it from somewhere, the New Orleans Center or whatever. “She fainted! She passed out!” So he ran her all the way to the basketball arena to get some medical help and he comes back with an empty cart and he checks in with us and we say, “Is she okay?” “Yeah, yeah, they got her.” “Well thanks for doing that.” And he’s like, “Um, I’ll keep doing this if you want.” And we’re like, “Absolutely, thank you.”
There was a lot of those people, saying, “How can I help?” So this little dude, as people would pass out in the heat, he’d scoop them up and he’d run them to the medical place. It was like his little emergency vehicle. Eventually he got on a bus, so tired. That’s one of my favorites.
Col. Ed Bush:
This person, when she evacuated her house the night before, so when she packed her stuff to come to the dome to ride out the storm, she packs her clown suit. As inconceivable as it was that you would bring your kids’ books and all that, I was like, “Who packs your clown stuff?” And for days, she just did tricks. She was doing the little magic tricks and the kids were all around her. Only in New Orleans.
Col. Ed Bush:
There were people sitting or standing for easily 24 hours [waiting to board buses] and we would try to bring them food and water in line. I’d try to urge people, “Once we start, we’re not going to stop. There’s no point in you going to get in line.” But a lot of people are like, “To hell with that, I’m getting in line. I’m getting out of here.”
But this dad, was one of those who kept his family out of the line, they were close. This is all the start of the line, there’s just trash everywhere. This is probably several days into the line, so we’re probably getting there, as far as we’re making some good progress. We can visibly see progress. I stumbled up on him and one of my favorite things to do as a dad — see this is going to make me cry, every time. [chokes up]
One of my favorite memories as a dad is I’ve read to all my kids. There’s nothing better than your kid curls up in your lap and you read stories. As soon as you finish the one, he runs off to his room and he comes back and he’s got another one. That is endless, as long as you can keep reading, at least with my kids, they never get tired of stories. It’s a very special moment.
So this family when they packed their stuff and left their house, they brought their books. And there they are, 50 feet behind him – well, all around him is complete hell – but he’s keeping his family together. And they’re going to read those books.
To me, there were so many people there that just kept that human side. There was so much of that and it spread. That’s what kept the dome from flipping – is we never lost that sense of humanity and that sense of decency. And that guy and his family endured something that no one should have to endure. They hung in there, and while they were there, he read stories to them. That’s crazy to me.
Col. Ed Bush:
During one of those times when I’m up there talking to the people and they’re angry and they’re bad enough and there was a couple of occurrences where in the evening it was pretty touch and go, like we’d hear some chanting going on, I’d get the word, “Come over here.” The MPs are nervous. They broke out with some bigger guns, but it never happened.
There was one day, it was just hot, the people had enough, it was kind of a breaking point kind of a thing and this lady waved to me and she says, “Can I talk to them?” And I was like, “Come on.” So she comes walking over, we help her up on the truck, she takes the mic, and she’s literally like, “Shame on you!” Just scolding them, 10,000 people. She’s like, “Y’all know who I am, we pray every day, shame on you! We’re better than this.” She says, “Let me sing,” and she starts singing some gospel song, and people are singing and she’s like, “Lord Jesus,” and she’s doing her whole thing.
I hopped off and I let her just do her thing and she finishes and, I kid you not, clouds kind of move in and it’s like a little bit of a light mist and everybody just kind of went, “Aahh!”
I hopped up and I’ll never forget it, I said, “If you’ve got any more of that left, you might want to save some of that. Because we might need a little bit more.” And she gave me the biggest old hug. Then she jumped down.
I don’t even believe in miracles, and that was a miracle. God, I’d never seen anything like it.