Just getting into New Orleans proved to be quite a feat for the team of Minden firefighters, including Benny Gray, Lonnie Gray and John Tucker. But due to Tucker’s quick thinking, the group was able to talk their way through four checkpoints to get into the city.
The firemen left out the night of Tuesday, August 30, and once south ran into a series of checkpoints.
“At the first, a deputy was turning all the boats around, saying it was too dangerous,” Tucker said. “They were all turning around, so I went right instead of left.”
At the next two checkpoints, Tucker had authorities believing the group was supposed to be a staging area in New Orleans.
“They said it was too dangerous, but we’re too ignorant for that,” Tucker said. “We were wanting to help, and I didn’t want to be turned around by some goof with a walkie talkie.”
To get through the last checkpoint, Tucker closely followed a bus that was on its way to pick up a load of prisoners.
“They weren’t letting anybody by, and we knew there were people there waiting on the roofs,” Tucker said. “We stayed with the prison bus, and once we were in New Orleans, we never saw any cops.”[emphasis added]
By day’s end, the group had rescued more than 200 people, including lots of children.
“These were good people. We should have gotten them out before,” Gray said. “It gave me a different outlook.”
Cotton Valley Fire Department
Capt. Hurley said his team worked most of the time without a security detachment.
“Our security detachment, unfortunately, left us and it was basically like running a gauntlet by the Super Dome,” said Capt. Hurley. “There were thousands of people lining the interstate, trying to take everything (supplies) out of the trucks.”
Capt. Hurley said the people who were being rescued had been told that once they got to the Super Dome or to higher ground, that there would be resources available. He said the most difficult part of the rescue operation was leaving the people on the interstate with no food, water or medical assistance.
“Basically, what the people were saying were, they had been told that once we pulled them out of the water, they would have resources to move them and hydrate them and feed them and those resources never showed up,” said Capt. Hurley. “We all have trained for years for, under the assumption that, the state would be there to do their job and FEMA would come in and do their job and unfortunately, that did not happen for whatever reason. It’s hard to go out and rescue people and not have the resources to take care of them.”
One of the memorable events of the firefighter’s trip was the night their crew helped feed evacuees.
“We had a lot of food left over - jambalaya,” said Stacie Hurley, who was the only female member of the task force. “We went down to the hotels, gas stations, parking lots to feed the people who came from New Orleans and had no food, nowhere to go. We handed out between 300 to 350 plates. That was a good feeling. They were thanking you, hugging you and crying. That was the first warm meal they had had since they left (New Orleans).”
Capt. Hurley said lack of communication posed the most difficulty in regards to rescue operations and procedures.
“There was no communications - radios or cell phones,” said Capt. Hurley. “A great emphasis had been placed, after 9-11, to standardize communications. We received 14 radios through a grant from Homeland Security as well as other departments in Webster Parish and those radios did not function - we could not talk back and forth between even the departments from Webster Parish on a simplex channel, which is radio to radio without a repeater.”
Sadly Law Enforcement and the Local, State, and Federal Governments were not up to the task