Charmaine Neville is the daughter of Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers. The family has been a fixture of the New Orleans music scene for many, many years. She was one of the tens of thousands of people stuck in the city when the storm hit, and she led a group of elderly and inform people out. Her story is well worth hearing.
If you’d prefer to read a rough transcript, here you go:
“I was in my house when everything first started. … When the hurricane came, it blew all the left side of my house off, and the water was coming in my house in torrents. I had my neighbor, an elderly man, and myself, in the house with our dogs and cats, and we were trying to stay out of the water. But the water was coming in too fast. So we ended up having to leave the house. We left the house and we went up on the roof of a school. I took a crowbar and I burst the door on the roof of the school to help people on the roof. Later on we found a flat boat, and we went around the neighborhood in a flat boat getting people out of their houses and bringing them to the school. We found all the food that we could and we cooked and we fed people. But then, things started getting really bad. By the second day, the people that were there, that we were feeding and everything, we had no more food and no water. We had nothing, and other people were coming in our neighborhood. We were watching the helicopters going across the bridge and airlift other people out, but they would hover over us and tell us “Hi!” and that would be all. They wouldn’t drop us any food or any water, or nothing. Alligators were eating people. They had all kinds of stuff in the water. They had babies floating in the water. We had to walk over hundreds of bodies of dead people. People that we tried to save from the hospices, from the hospitals and from the old-folks homes. I tried to get the police to help us, but I realized, we rescued a lot of police officers in the flat boat from the 5th district police station. The guy who was in the boat, he rescued a lot of them and brought them to different places so they could be saved. We understood that the police couldn’t help us, but we couldn’t understand why the National Guard and them couldn’t help us, because we kept seeing them but they never would stop and help us. Finally it got to be too much, I just took all of the people that I could. I had two old women in wheelchairs with no legs, that I rowed them from down there in that nightmare to the French Quarters, and I went back and got more people. There were groups of us, there were about 24 of us, and we kept going back and forth and rescuing whoever we could get and bringing them to the French Quarters ’cause we heard that there was phones in the French Quarters, and that there wasn’t any water. And they were right, there was phones but we couldn’t get through. I found some police officers. I told them that a lot of us women had been raped down there by guys [unintelligible] the neighborhood where we were, that were helping us to save people. But other men, and they came and they started raping women [unintelligible] and they started killing, and I don’t know who these people were. I’m not gonna tell you I know, because I don’t. But what I want people to understand is that, if we hadn’t been left down there like the animals that they were treating us like, all of those things wouldn’t have happened. People are trying to say that we stayed in that city because we wanted to be rioting and we wanted to do this and, we didn’t have resources to get out, we had no way to leave. When they gave the evacuation order, if we coulda left, we would have left. There are still thousands and thousands of people trapped in their homes in the downtown area. When we finally did get to, in the 9th ward, and not just in my neighborhood, but in other neighborhoods in the 9th wards, there are a lot of people still trapped down there… old people, young people, babies, pregnant women. I mean, nobody’s helping them. And I want people to realize that we did not stay in the city so we could steal and loot and commit crimes. A lot of those young men lost their minds because the helicopters would fly over us and they wouldn’t stop. WE would do SOS on the flashlights, we’d do everything, and it came to a point. It really did come to a point, where these young men were so frustrated that they did start shooting. They weren’t trying to hit the helicopters, they figured maybe they weren’t seeing. Maybe if they hear this gunfire they will stop then. But that didn’t help us. Nothing like that helped us. Finally, I got to Canal St. with all of my people I had saved from back then. I, I don’t want them arresting nobody else. I broke the window in an RTA bus. I never learned how to drive a bus in my life. I got in that bus. I loaded all of those people in wheelchairs and in everything else into that bus, and we drove and we drove and we drove and millions of people was trying to get me to help them to get on the bus. But… [sobs]”