Scott Gold of the Los Angeles Times continues his superb coverage of how the vast majority of even the most distressed people in New Orleans are behaving:
September 3, 2005
NEW ORLEANS — Forty-four troops pressed together in their truck, swaying as one at every bump and turn like reeds in a river.
As they plunged into the dark water engulfing the business district of New Orleans, their wake pushed the body of a woman onto the steps of the Superdome. The floodwater had ripped her pants down to her knees. She was facedown in the muck, a red ribbon still tied neatly around her graying hair.
The troops, members of an elite Special Response Team from the Louisiana Army National Guard, were the first convoy out of what was rapidly becoming a massive military staging ground.
Their mission, simply, is to turn New Orleans into a police state — to "regain the city," 1st Sgt. John Jewell said.
The truck lurched through the streets, past buildings burning unabated and MPs in gun turrets. When they stopped to gear up for their arrival at the New Orleans Convention Center, where more than 15,000 people had been living in squalor since Katrina, these words echoed — for the first time, one would imagine — through the intersection of Poydras Avenue and Carondelet Street: "Lock and load!"
"Sixteen in the clip!" one Guardsman shouted, a common refrain used to indicate that rifles are fully loaded.
But when they arrived, they did not find marauding mobs. They did not come under fire. They found people who had lost everything in the storm and, since then, their dignity.
The troops arrived Friday, ready for anything.
"You've got to do something," said the nurse in the New Orleans T-shirt.
"We'll get you some help as soon as some people get here," Lt. James Magee said as the troops arrived. "OK?"
Frankie Estes, 80, said she was glad to finally see the troops. It was a glimmer of hope. Friday night marked her fifth night sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the center.
"I haven't had food or water for three days," she said. "I didn't know if I was going to make it."
By Friday night, dinner had been served to a seemingly endless line of refugees. Helicopters had begun descending on the convention center, airlifting the most critically ill. The troops had found their mission. It just wasn't what they thought it was going to be.