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Gretna Police Bar Evacuation

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.

Today 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.

  • The long road out of Mordor : :: Continue reading...

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    Created : 3/7/2006 2:28:32 AM Updated: 2/13/2007 3:40:23 PM

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