Preface: Every Metropolitan area in America is understaffed by law enforcement. As the L.A./Rodney King Riots showed in the early 90′s and Katrina emphasized for a “new generation” post 2000, the veil of civility is FRAGILE. Police cannot be in 2, or 10, places at once, and when they are outnumbered 10:1 or 1000:1, they will take the necessary actions to preserve their lives. Just as in the L.A./Rodney King Riots- National Guardsmen were sent into the disaster UNARMED and UNPROTECTED. They will not be able to help civilians who are being victimized by groups CRIMINALS and THIEVES. The “Government” will disarm law-abiding citizens, and the LAWFUL CITIZENS will NEVER receive their property back as the confiscations EXHIBITED in New Orleans.
This is the personal account written by historian Martin K.A. Morgan. Martin K.A. Morgan is the research historian of the National D-Day Museum, and the author of “Down To Earth: The 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Normandy June 6 – July 11, 1944”. Morgan advises and comments on, and in, numerous television documentaries. Morgan was working at the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans when hurricane Katrina struck.
This Article: “Aftermath of Disaster- One Armed Citizen’s Story” was published in the National Rifle Association’s December 2005 issue of American Rifleman.
The NRA does not currently host this article on the web, but it has was posted on “freerepublic.com” in January 2006 here. (Bold and Italics added.)
Aftermath of Disaster- One Armed Citizen’s Story
by Martin K.A. Morgan
I live on Julia Street in the downtown Warehouse District of New Orleans. My apartment is just seven blocks from the French Quarter, eight blocks from the Louisiana Superdome and four blocks from the Mississippi River. I also work in the same neighborhood at the National D-Day Museum. Living and working in the Warehouse District during the past five years has made me develop a sense of comfort and safety that I now realize I had been taking for granted. During the last three days of August 2005, that sense of comfort and safety was shattered by Hurricane Katrina.
I have survived a direct hit from a hurricane before (July 1997’s Hurricane Danny), so I had a realistic expectation of the level of destruction that Katrina could deliver. Although I did not underestimate the storm, I thoroughly underestimated the depths to which people could descend in its aftermath. With my girlfriend, Debbi, I remained in the city until the afternoon of Wednesday, August 31. When the time came for the two of us to escape, we were able to do so only because we had a 2001 Chevy Blazer, a full tank of gas and four firearms.
As Katrina approached New Orleans, I chose not to evacuate. I would not have made this decision had it not been for the fact that I was prepared with a supply of non-perishable food and clean water to last two weeks. In addition to the food, Debbi and I also had a radio, several flashlights and plenty of batteries. In the event of looting, I was prepared with arms and ammunition.
I have collected firearms for more than 20 years now, mainly with a focus on military rifles. My modest collection includes two M1 Garands, two M1 carbines, two Mausers, a Krag, a Trapdoor Springfield and a Ruger 10/22. This little collection was supplemented in recent years with a pre-1980 Norinco AKM, a Colt AR-15 SP1, and eight pistols – some collectible and some modern. As the storm approached, I locked up everything that I knew I would not need and kept out the AKM and AR-15 just in case. For pistols, I kept out my Beretta 950BS .25-cal. and my 9 mm Browning Hi-Power. I figured that, should things get out of control, these would be more than adequate to protect my life and property.
Since I live in a fourth-floor apartment more than 50 feet above street level, I was not worried about floodwaters. What did worry me though was my Blazer, which sat on a street-level parking lot. As insurance against the car being flooded, I took it to a hotel in the Central Business District (CBD) of the city. A friend working there let me park the Blazer in the hotel’s parking deck for the duration of the storm. So, with the outermost feeder bands of Hurricane Katrina sweeping in over the city, I drove my SUV the 10 blocks to the hotel and handed it over to a valet. It was midnight, and the storm was getting close.
The actual storm was not terribly exciting for the two of us: heavy rains and winds began sweeping over the city before midnight on Sunday, August 28. We went to bed at about 2 o’clock on Monday morning with the power still on. At approximately 4 a.m., we woke to very strong winds that physically shook the building. At 5:30 a.m., the power went out and we switched to flashlights and turned on the radio. When the winds began to die down shortly before 6 a.m., Debbi and I went back to sleep, assuming that we had seen the worst of Katrina.
Monday – Day 1
When the wind and rain abated at about 11 a.m. on Monday, I was relieved that my apartment had sustained no water or wind damage. In the afternoon, we took a walking tour of the neighborhood. The first stop was the museum, which had sustained very little damage. The worst-hit part of the museum campus was a warehouse storing overstock for the museum store, where two wooden walls had collapsed, exposing racks of T-shirts and shelves of toys. Looters soon began making off with the contents of this storage area. With the museum in great shape, we continued to explore the damage to the Warehouse District and Lafayette Square area of downtown where we observed shattered windows and uprooted trees everywhere. We also observed hundreds of fellow New Orleanians touring the destruction. The feeling around the downtown area on Day 1 was that of elation – people seemed for the most part glad that the storm was over and that damage appeared not to be particularly extensive.
There was a great deal of activity on the street after dark, with helicopters flying around endlessly and police vehicles patrolling the streets of our neighborhood. At about 11 p.m., we heard the distinct and measured report of a handgun being fired by someone who knew what he was doing. I assumed that this was a New Orleans peace officer. Despite this though, we were not particularly concerned about safety – yet.
Tuesday – Day 2
We awoke on Day 2 to a ringing telephone. Surprisingly, cellular phones were useless and yet the landline remained on for the duration of the ordeal, which has led me to vow that I will never be without one for the rest of my life. The people who were calling began telling us of the scenes of destruction that were being played on every television station. This is when we first learned of the breaches in the levee system and the looting. When emergency radio broadcasts confirmed this information, Debbi and I began to worry for the first time. Strangely, we were not hearing any details on the radio about the situation in downtown New Orleans. All we knew was that our friends and family outside the city were telling us that the levees had been breached and the looting had begun.
Based on those sobering reports, we decided to attempt to get out of New Orleans. We knew that the Blazer was going to be just fine since it was on a parking deck, and we knew we had plenty of gas to get out, thanks to the fact that I had taken the precaution of filling up the tank three days earlier. So in the afternoon we set out on foot for the hotel, hoping retrieve the car and drive ourselves out. On this first attempt to get to the Blazer, I carried my video camera and my Browning Hi-Power, which I had specifically chosen for its magazine capacity. I carried it with one round in the chamber and 13 in the magazine.
Since this was the first time we had gone into the core of the CBD, we were surprised to see broken glass filling the streets and trees down everywhere. At Poydras Street we saw our first National Guardsmen, but they were from an engineer battalion. They had trucks and HMMWVs, but no guns; in fact, at no point did I observe a single armed National Guardsman. As we entered the CBD, we saw our first floodwaters. The streets downtown were a soup of dead pigeons, dead rats, sewage and oil all mixed up in about three feet of water. We did not want to enter it, but we had to if we wanted to get to the Blazer, so in we went. As we waded farther and farther into the downtown core, we passed a food mart at the corner of Baronne and Gravier and we noticed people inside looting sodas, chips, beer and cigarettes. They were exiting through a broken window as we passed them.
When we reached the hotel, we found that the parking garage doors were shut and the entire area around it was under thigh-deep water. Realizing that we could not get the Blazer out, we headed home. It was during the return walk that I personally observed several hundred people engaged in the act of looting. They were all around us that afternoon, pushing grocery carts full of athletic shoes, clothing and electronics toward the Morial Convention Center. One guy had a brand new football still in the box that he was so proud of, he held it up for my camera.
Throughout all of this, I personally observed New Orleans police officers standing by, doing nothing. To me it seemed that they were simply outnumbered and overwhelmed. The entire experience of being downtown and in the middle of all of this was very distressing. Up to that point, we had only heard rumors about the general lawlessness that was taking place in the city. Now that we had seen it close-up, we realized what a chaotic situation we were in. Also, because we had personally observed police officers doing little to interfere with the looting, we no longer had any confidence that we were being adequately protected.
We returned to the apartment and spent Tuesday night listening to the helicopters and police vehicles roving through the neighborhood. The night was miserable for many reasons. First of all, the heat was absolutely brutal – especially indoors. Secondly, after what we had seen in downtown earlier in the day, we were both terrified at the thought of looters breaking into the building. It seemed very obvious that if they got in, we were in big trouble.
I began to analyze my hallway in terms of the possible lanes of approach that the looters would use, and I even considered wiring tin cans together and stringing them up the hall to alert me if someone was approaching. I caught only a few minutes of sleep at a time throughout the night as I strained to listen for the sounds of intruders. The AKM and the AR-15 SP1 were both locked and loaded, leaning against the wall a foot away from me. The Browning Hi-Power was locked and loaded on the bedside table. Although there were a couple of scares during the night, the bad guys did not get in.
Wednesday – Day 3
I had to get us out of New Orleans and I knew it, so I decided to try again on Wednesday, and we prepared ourselves for another trip into the CBD to try to get to the Blazer. Just as the day before, I took the Browning Hi-Power with me for protection. As we moved down Magazine Street, we kept noticing cars streaming toward the bridge at high speed. We saw relief workers getting out of town. Downtown New Orleans was even scarier than it had been on Tuesday. The situation was absolute and total chaos. As we crossed Common Street by the hotel, I personally observed two New Orleans police officers carrying looted boxes of running shoes.
At the hotel, we were surprised to find the gate to the parking deck open. I was preparing myself for the bad news that someone had stolen the car, and I was playing out every possible worst-case scenario in my mind. If the Blazer was gone, we were going to walk out of New Orleans. But then on the 11th floor of the deck, we found it with the window down, the valet key in the ignition and every drop of gas still in it. Although we were lucky in that we now had a means of escape, there was still one major obstacle: the flooded street. I drove off into it and, although I never would have believed it, the Blazer operated just fine in water that was almost four-foot deep. Thank you, GM.
As we pulled up in front of my apartment building, I told Debbi that we could only take a few minutes to get whatever we were going to need from the apartment. I knew that the longer the Blazer sat on Julia Street (a mere four blocks from the Morial Convention Center), the greater the chance of it either being stolen or having its gasoline siphoned out. The two of us proceeded upstairs and began to pack frantically. I strapped the AKM across my back when I carried the first load downstairs. When I got there, I looked through the pedestrian gate that surrounds the building and I saw a group of five men circling the Blazer, looking through its windows. One of them was clearly trying to read the fuel gauge.
Knowing what they were about to do, I dashed through the gate and yelled at them to get away from the vehicle. As I charged through the gate, I unslung the AKM. At first, the malice in their eyes and their threatening moves could not have been more clear. It wasn’t just about the Blazer anymore. Then, they each saw the rifle and, without hesitating, turned and ran. If I had been unarmed, I would have never done this, and they would have taken the only means of escape that was available to us. I watched the impulse that shot through each of them the second they saw my AKM – it was the unmistakable and immediate impulse of complete terror. They responded dramatically to the sight of that AKM. It was better than having a team of Rottweilers.
I am thankful I had it because, minutes later, Debbi and I drove across the Greater New Orleans Bridge and on to Houston – and safety.
(Martin K.A. Morgan is the research historian of the National D-Day Museum, and the author of “Down To Earth: The 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Normandy June 6 – July 11, 1944”.)