August 31, 2005

Behind the Scenes: Katrina aftermath hits LSU hard

Editor's note: The following is a firsthand account from Bill Martin, a student assistant in the sports information office at LSU, of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina being felt in Baton Rouge and the horrors he witnessed on Tuesday night and into Wednesday.

Little did I know what I would be doing following Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, but as I type right now, there won't be a more gratifying or more surreal experience than I went through tonight.

We went up to the office today and held a press conference regarding the postponement of the [North Texas] game and it was the right decision. As the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and Field House are being used as shelters, we decided as an office to do everything we could to help the situation.

At first, we were just supposed to make copies of this disaster relief form for all of the people. The copiers will never print a document more important than that.

It's weird. Nearly 12 hours ago we were running off copies of game notes for a football game that is now meaningless. We printed the copies and carried them over to the Field House at 6:30 p.m. I wouldn't leave the area for another eight hours.

On the way back to the PMAC in a cart, it looked like the scene in the movie Outbreak. FEMA officials, U.S. Marshalls, National Guard, and of course the survivors.

Black Hawks were carrying in victims who were stranded on roofs. Buses rolled in from New Orleans with other survivors. As Michael and I rode back to the PMAC, a lady fell out of her wheelchair and we scrambled to help her up.

We met Coach [Les] Miles and Coach [Tommy] Moffitt in the PMAC to see all the survivors and it was the view of a hospital. Stretchers rolled in constantly, and for the first time in my life, I saw someone die right in front of me.

A man rolled in from New Orleans and was badly injured on his head. Five minutes later he was dead. And that was the scene all night.

What did we do? We started hauling in supplies, and thousands of boxes of supplies. The CDC from Atlanta arrived directing us what to do.

One of the U.S. Marshalls was on hand so the supplies could not become loot. I asked him what his primary job was. He serves on the committee of counter terrorism, but once he saw of the disaster, he donated his forces to come help. He said the death toll could be nearing 10,000. It was sickening to hear that.

After unloading supplies, I started putting together baby cribs and then IV poles. Several of our football players and Big Baby (Glen Davis) and Tasmin Mitchell helped us.

At the same time, families and people strolled in. Mothers were giving birth in the locker rooms. The auxiliary gym "Dungeon" was being used as a morgue. I couldn't take myself down there to see it.

I worked from 8 p.m., until 2:45 a.m. Before I left, three more buses rolled in and they were almost out of room. People were standing outside. The smells, the sights were hard to take.

A man lying down on a cot asked me to come see him.

He said, "I just need someone to talk to, to tell my story because I have nobody and nothing left."

He turned out to be a retired military veteran. His story was what everybody was saying. He thought he survived the worst, woke up this morning and the levees broke. Within minutes water rushed into his house.

He climbed to the attic, smashed his way through the roof and sat there for hours. He was completely sunburned and exhausted. Nearly 12 hours later a chopper rescued him and here he was.

We finished the night hauling boxes of body bags and more were on the way. As we left, a man was strolled in on a stretcher and scarily enough he suffered gunshots. The paramedic said he was shot several times because a looter or a convict needed his boat and he wouldn't give it to him.

Another man with him said it was "an uncivilized society no better than Iraq down there right now." A few minutes later, he was unconscious and later pronounced dead. I then left as they were strolling a 3-year old kid in on a stretcher. I couldn't take it anymore.

That was the scene at the PMAC and it gives me a new perspective on things. For those of you who I haven't been able to get in touch with because of phone service, I pray you are safe. Send me an email to let me know. God bless.

Rivals.com encourages donations to the American Red Cross. You can specify your donation go toward "2005 Hurricane Relief." To make donations, please click here.

This was reprinted with the permission of Mr. Martin. The death toll estimate that he was given should be considered speculative at best.


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