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USF alumnus remembers Katrina

As a long-time resident of New Orleans and a USF graduate, I felt the need to write about my horrific experience — trapped in the city in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster.

Much has been said about who is responsible for the slow response, what caused it and why it took so long. Because I am still dealing with serious nightmares for the things I saw, I don’t really want to involve myself with the politics of the matter.

However, amidst the confusion and memories of a broken city, there is one issue that constantly worries me: the race issue and the blame game surrounding it.New Orleans has always been a multicultural city with beautiful cultural traditions that date back to Colonial times. I like to think of it as the melting pot of a fabled American city, a black city par excellence. My family arrived in New Orleans in 1975, and my son was born in New Orleans. I own two houses in a black neighborhood and work in the tourism and service industry. New Orleans is home.

But when I hear that the federal government’s slow response to the disaster was motivated by race because most of those affected by it are black, I feel the need to voice my opinion. While it is inexcusable that many of our black bothers and sisters found themselves at the mercy of the elements, without the much-needed resources of the most powerful nation on Earth, it is also true they were not alone.

There were many others who also experienced the terror, fear and ineptitude of our government. I was locked inside my damaged house for days but fled through the flooded waters because I was tired of the gunfire and fighting. My neighbors were very kind and supportive. But when I got downtown, I found myself in much greater peril because gangs of looters ruled the streets and there were no police officers.

I sought refuge at my friend’s law office in a badly damaged building in the CBD, a banking district that was being terrorized by armed gangs blowing up ATMs with submachine guns. In the building were black and white families hiding inside offices with no light, no running water and no toilets. But we all found comfort in each other and shared water and provisions.

Amidst the burning buildings and the sound of explosions, we constantly prayed to God for help and deliverance for the sick people inside. One of those was a tall white man suffering from a stroke and high blood pressure, whom we carried up 18 flights of stairs, then back down when the National

Guard finally arrived to give him much-needed medical help.

There will be time to blame the mayor, the governor or the president, and no one might agree on the final conclusion, but one thing is true and clear in my mind: We were all victims of the lack of government response and the madness that followed.

Edgar Sierra is a USF alumnus and a former photographer for The Oracle.