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 Gideon wades his way through the muck of New Orleans
 SuChin tags along with volunteers at Louisiana State University
 Sway finds hope amidst the busloads of evacuees in Houston

Watch MTV News Presents: 'After The Storm' On Overdrive
Watch MTV News' Hurricane Katrina Coverage On Overdrive


 
When it became apparent in the days following Hurricane Katrina that the United States had suffered perhaps the biggest natural disaster in its history, and that the hardship was only just beginning for thousands of stranded victims, MTV News sent teams to the affected areas to hear these people's stories first-hand. Gideon Yago was dispatched to the flooded streets of New Orleans, SuChin Pak was sent to the relief-activity hub of Baton Rouge, and Sway flew to Houston to meet up with survivors who were being bused from New Orleans' dilapidated Superdome. Their stories are told below, as well as on the MTV News special "After the Storm," premiering Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

So I got a call Wednesday from my boss, and he wanted to know if I could get into New Orleans. The problem was you couldn't just fly to New Orleans, because the airport there had become a triage. And if we flew to Baton Rouge, we wouldn't have had a car, because as people fled the region, they rented them all. So we had to fly 250 miles away to Pensacola, Florida, get a car and drive from there.

Early in the morning we made it past Mobile, Alabama, which itself had been hit by 11-foot waves, and really started to see the damage — signs that were toppled, trees that were broken. Near Biloxi, Mississippi, on the side of the road there was this two-mile line of cars, so we pulled over and started talking to people. Turned out gas was being rationed and prices had jumped to about $5 a gallon with a $20 limit on how much people could buy, so they were basically waiting up to 11 hours for four gallons of gas.

The storm, as they described it, was horrific, coming in like a giant wrecking ball. For a lot of people we talked to in line, gas was just that day's problem. They didn't know where they were going to live. They didn't know what they were going to do for work. Some of them didn't know where their families were.

We got back on the interstate and found ourselves skating across the entire region of where Hurricane Katrina had hit. We passed Gulfport, we passed Bay St. Louis and eventually got to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Our first stop there was the state capitol, where FEMA police, firefighters, rescue teams and the Army, National Guard and Navy were being coordinated. There I got a call from one of the contacts I've been working with out of the 1st Calvary Division, an Army division out of Fort Hood, Texas, that had served over in Iraq. Sergeant Rogers said, "I can fly you to the Superdome, but you're on your own from there."

So we hopped a flight and flew toward New Orleans. It became clear where we were once we were on top of it, because the floodwaters have made this slick, mirrorlike surface through all of the streets and open areas. It was incredible. You would see all these houses where the waterline had come up to the roofs, and we saw people still on the roofs, a lot of cars that were underwater. Our helicopter banked a turn, and that's when we saw the Superdome. It was such a familiar sight at that point, because it had come to symbolize this crisis — all these people that had sought refuge in this place and then the breakdown of social order and the lack of immediate response.

 After The Storm: Images From The Relief Efforts
The helicopter touched down in the parking lot and the first thing that hit us was the smell. It just smells nasty, because now the entire city has raw sewage, lake and river water pumping into it, not to mention God knows what kind of chemicals. There's trash that's been baking in the heat, and where the doors to the Superdome are open the smell is sort of peeling out. One of the jokes we later heard from the one of the evacuees was that they were going to be in the "Guinness Book of World Records" because they turned the Superdome into the world's biggest sh--ter.

Aside from the people, the first things we saw were piles of trash everywhere — Army rations, water bottles, bottles of alcohol, clothing, the remnants of what I assume a lot of people had taken from their houses and then couldn't take on buses. Young National Guardsmen with facemasks and rubber gloves and shotguns were still in the process of clearing everybody out of the Superdome.

We saw the last few hundred evacuees that were still being moved out, kind of stuck in the sun, guarded the way that people guard a prison yard, and waiting to get out. We walked into this yard and there was just this really weird vibe. The second that you left what was kind of the martial law of the compound — where you had a lot of soldiers who were at least kind of eating and drinking regularly and could go into the shade — and went out into this open, exposed area where a lot of people hadn't slept, it was very palpable that something was off. Tempers were short, people were wary to look at you. These people had been given food and maybe some water, but no information, and for the last few days they'd been told, "We're going to get you out of here, we're gonna get you help." And it hadn't shown up. So nobody knew what would happen next. They didn't know what the situation was with their own homes, sometimes with their own families, and this was the portion of New Orleans that needed the most help.

New Orleans is a poor city. One fifth of New Orleans lives below the poverty line, likely doesn't own a car and didn't have a way out. And a lot of these people came to the Superdome, thinking, "I've paid taxes every day of my life. I work a job, I do the right thing, I'm not a criminal, I'm not a bad person, I want to do right by my family. I'm going to go and seek shelter here and then somebody's going to help me out." But day after day after day, they'd been told by these guys with rifles, "There's going to be help, we're going to get you out of here," but nothing had come. And that fostered some very negative, very tense moments.

We met a 17-year-old named Theo who was there with his family and had survived the hurricane in the Superdome and had spent, at that point, four days waiting for somebody to help him out. He described what had happened at the Superdome, where in the absence of law and order, fear took people over as it became clear that a lot of these people who had lost everything were growing increasingly desperate, stuck in a place where latrines were filling up and the water had been shut off and nobody was moving out of there. He was just hoping to get out of there, but he also worried about whether he was going to be able to graduate high school this year. He didn't know what happened to his house, didn't know what happened to his friends, was fortunate enough to have stuck together with his mom, his dad, his sister, his family, and was impressively keeping his head in this really tense environment.

Everybody just wanted to get out of there, but there was no reprieve in sight, and a lot of what Theo had to say to us seemed to embody the plight of the people who were stuck in New Orleans. They had not only endured this hurricane and lost everything they had ever known, but their future was uncertain, their day-to-day was uncertain, and they had lost faith that anybody had really given a damn about them. The whole notion of rebuilding or getting their life back on track came with this agonizing sense of doubt. Why should they believe any promises about being able to start over, after what they had just been through, getting out of this Superdome environment where law, order and anything resembling civility had just gone to hell?

After talking to a few more people, we jumped on a medical supply truck headed to another major evacuation point, the downtown convention center, where people had been stranded for days without aid. From there we walked toward the waterline, getting a look at the city. Garbage was everywhere on the empty streets, but we came across several stragglers. Survivors. One, named Leon, had withstood the storm with his parents in an apartment building that you had to walk through waist-deep water to get to, and was out on his bike with his dad to get food and water.

In talking about the living through lawlessness that broke out following the hurricane, it was clear he didn't see it as crime and anarchy. For him it was survival. There was no running water or electricity in the apartment, and it was 90 degrees outside. People get hot and dehydrate and if they're old, like the people in his house, they need water. All the food spoils if it's not refrigerated. And what are you going to do? You're going to go out in these streets where people have been toting guns, robbing, raping, looting, and you're going to do what you have to do to survive.

We followed Leon and his dad as far as we could as they carried water back to their apartment. But when they turned a corner and it was going to be a waist-deep walk through the dirty water, we decided to break away head back to the Superdome. Along the way we spotted a convoy of buses. What people had been waiting for had finally come — bus after bus after bus, there to take them to some form of help. One of the survivors sitting on the side of the road clapped his hands. "It's about goddamned time," he said.

When we got up to where the waterline was we waited, hoping to catch a ride back to the Superdome, after damn close to an hour nobody had come. We knew if we didn't get back by a certain point, we were going to miss any chance of getting out of New Orleans that night. So we did what everybody had been doing: We walked it. Into the water, into the filth. We came upon the Superdome from the route that had been the back of the pen earlier that morning, and it was just awesome because that whole area had been cleared out. All of these people who didn't know whether anybody even gave a damn about them had gotten out of there. Don't know where, don't know what their future was going to hold, but after waiting and waiting and waiting for help, they were finally getting it.

Photo: MTV News

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