When on September 1, 2005, three days after the storm, people from New Orleans crossed the CCC bridge on foot to get away from the flooding and unsafe conditions
in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson's officers barred the way and fired shots in the air, turning the crowd back.
His actions have been loudly criticized and loudly praised. He is unapologetic:
"I made a decision, which I still stand behind, to minimize a
dangerous situation by stopping the flow of individuals into our city,"
he wrote in a letter to the editor of the Times Picayune.
The LA Times reported the story in a little more detail:
Like New Orleans, Gretna lost power and water. Town officials
pleaded unsuccessfully for help from the state and the Federal
Emergency Management Agency. Then they learned that New Orleans
officials had told the thousands trapped in that city's downtown,
similarly deprived of food and water but also dodging gunfights and
rising floodwaters, to cross to Gretna.
Not sure how to feed even their own residents, Gretna officials
were overwhelmed by New Orleans' evacuees. They organized bus caravans
Aug. 31 to take the arrivals to Metairie, 16 miles away, where a food
and water distribution center had been set up.
The evacuees waited for rides out of Gretna at the foot of the
bridge, across the street from Oakwood Mall. As the hours ticked by
and the crowd swelled, trouble began, Gretna authorities said.
Sometime on Wednesday, Aug. 31, a fire broke out in the mall, next
to the local branch of the sheriff's office, and police chased
suspected looters out of the building.
Mayor Harris had had enough. He called the state police.
"I said: 'There will be bloodshed on the west bank if this
continues,' " Harris recalled. " 'This is not Gretna. I am not going
to give up our community!' "
The following morning, Gretna's police chief made his decision:
Seal the bridge.
in harsh retrospect someone has to be asking the question about the
FEMA organization that was staged in Metairie. What were they thinking
and doing when buses showed up from the westbank on Tuesday and
Wednesday? Did they even send the buses back for more? Who are these
mindless, heartless people that we put in charge of our emergency
response? Arthur Lawson and the city of Gretna gets the blame for being
left in an untenable position. (Read the article "The long road out of
Mordor" for a different point of view. )
Somebody might also ask why the 200 RTA buses stored at the Poland Street wharf hadn't been discoverd and used to transport victims from the dome to the transit staging area along I-10 at Causeway.