Katrina-1The 8th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was Friday.  Of the many people who did not evacuate New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, inmates were left helpless.  Under the responsibility of the government, many report stories of torturous nightmares.  The ACLU gathered testimony from 400 of the 7,000 people locked up in New Orleans Prison at the time of Katrina, including 100 juveniles.  Many reported being left in their cells as the water rose above their heads, being beaten and sprayed with mace after being evacuated to a maximum security prison, and many left on I-10 in the blazing sun for days without food or water.

We all know in hindsight that those in the path of Katrina were severely under-prepared due to the government and FEMA’s mishandling of emergency protocols, but how could so much go so wrong for those under the total control of those with all the resources?  Most of the 7,000 prisoners had been charged with misdemeanors (like trespassing, drunkenness, etc.) and would have been released soon after Katrina, if they were even found guilty.  Many hadn’t got their day in court yet.  Governor Blanco suspended habeas corpus and due process (which includes all trial rights) for six months, so some were incarcerated longer than they should have been, in what is termed, “Katrina time”.  The court system shut its doors, the police fell into disarray (several police officers went rogue during Katrina and killed citizens looking for help), few prosecutors stayed, and there weren’t enough public defenders.  Prison officials deny anyone died in the severely under-controlled crisis, but there are reports that several did die.  Katrina created an America that was lawless.

“Of all the nightmares during Hurricane Katrina, this must be one of the worst,” said Corinne Carey, researcher from Human Rights Watch. “Prisoners were abandoned in their cells without food or water for days as floodwaters rose toward the ceiling.”

The correctional officers did not follow any sort of evacuation plan they just saved themselves.  Inmates in Templeman III, one of the buildings in the compound, reported that for several days there were no correctional officers and they all were locked in their cells as the water slowly rose up.  They had no food or water and no way to seek help.  The sheriff of Orleans Parish, Marlin N. Gusman waited twice as long as other surrounding prisons to request help.  The evacuation of the Orleans Parish Prison wasn’t completed for 4 days.  According to officers who worked at two of the jail buildings, Templeman I and II, they began to evacuate prisoners days before Templeman III at that time floodwaters were at chest level.  At Templeman III, which housed about 600 men, there was no prison staff to help.  During the ordeal, the generators died leaving everyone without lights or air circulation and all the toilets backed up.

“They left us to die there,” said Dan Bright, an Orleans Parish Prison inmate.

As the water began rising on the first floor, prisoners became anxious and then desperate. Some of the inmates were able to force open their cell doors, helped by inmates held in the common area. All of them, however, remained trapped.

“The water started rising, it was getting to here,” said Earrand Kelly, an inmate from Templeman III, as he pointed to his neck. “We was calling down to the guys in the cells under us, talking to them every couple of minutes. They were crying, they were scared…‘I’m scared. I feel like I’m about to drown…’”

Some inmates from Templeman III have said they saw bodies floating in the floodwaters as they were evacuated from the prison.  Inmates were forced to break out windows to breathe.  They also set fire to blankets and shirts and hung them out of the windows to let people know they were still in the facility.  Signs reading “Help Us” and “Man Down” could be seen in the windows of the third floor.  Several corrections officers said there was no evacuation plan even though they had gone through a similar emergency in the 1990s.

“It was complete chaos,” said a corrections officer with more than 30 years of service at Orleans Parish Prison. When asked what he thought happened to the inmates in Templeman III, he shook his head and said: “Ain’t no tellin’ what happened to those people.”

missingOne of the biggest mysteries of Katrina is the missing people; this includes 517 unaccounted for inmates.  When Human Rights Watch compared the list of imprisoned individuals to the list of “all offenders evacuated”, they found unaccounted for people.  The government denies any missing prisoners.  There are still serious questions and implications of what happened inside the facilities of Louisiana.  The effort to tackle missing persons cases and unidentified bodies ran out of money in 2006.  According to reported figures, there are still hundreds of people missing, where did they go and what happened to them?

  1. jody says:

    OMG and in what is supposed to be a civilized nation ! I hope but doubt that preparedness has been put into place since then. Where is OSHA in this? Why not open the doors and let them out telling them to return when it was possible to do so, except for murderers, rapists who they could have relocated? They need to be held accountable.


  2. Drac says:

    Must have been hell for them.


  3. Lon Spector says:

    Some people were also left to die in a nursing home. Expendable citizens I guess.


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