Interviewer: Abe Louise Young
Indian Creek Apartments, Austin, TX
December 1, 2005
JOE: Isleños are a group of people, a culture
of people. Down the road, we call it
in the Delacroix Island, Gio [Reggio], Yscloskey
area, Southeast of New Orleans. It remained fairly
isolated from the Canary Islands, thus the word,
Isleños, islanders, you know?
[Our people] were sent [there] when Spain owned
Louisiana. As you know Louisiana was owned by three
countries in a very short time: it was owned by
Spain, Louisiana, and America. Im sorry, excuse
me, Spain, France and America (laughs). Thats
exactly right. And when Spain owned it, they sent
a group of islanders to a number of different places,
but it took hold in southeast St. Bernard Parish.
And their being cut off geographically, they maintained
the culture through the 1940s, and 50s, spoke
Spanish in most households. It was a trapping, shrimping
community. And so they were different, of course.
The kids wouldnt want to know that they were
different to their friends in school, but they were
different, you know? They had their own views on
doctors, and they had a list of home healing things,
using different parts of the woods, and different
flowers that would heal stomach ailments, and its
really interesting if you do an investigation of
Okay, my story begins! I was bornNo. (Laughs)
Actually, my story begins: my mom had a stroke a
while back, and my dad has been caring for her,
in a manner in which I admire, and wish I could
have this much dedication to anything, you know?
But he sat by her side every day for a long, long
many days to actuallymonths and months, over
a year, and he was there every day. So anyway, theyre
gonna evacuate the hospital, and hes gonna
go with her, because last time he was gonna go with
her and I was gonna split. But when he calls, they
say, Mr. Navis, things are too hectic right
now, when we get where were going, well
call you, and why dont you come by tomorrow
when the storm passes. And they had told us
that, you know, that things looked poorly, and that
she probably wouldnt be around for another
month, you know? So we were mourning that, and werent
paying attention to the storm. And to be very honest,
and a lot of times people dont believe me,
but I didnt know the name of the storm until
the day before it came.
And so the storms blowing, and Im in
Lower St. Bernardwell, Im in Mid Parish.
I have a house in Lower St. Bernard, but Im
with my dad in Mid St. Bernard Parish. And at 7:30,
it looked like the eye was coming over, and he said,
Im gonna go get a couple hours
sleep, you go ahead and let me know if theres
any problems. Well, he went to sleep, and
I sat there listening to the radio, because by this
time the power was out. And I sat there listening
to the radio, and drifted asleep, I guess about
8 oclock. At 8:20everythings good
at 8 oclock, except that our big pecan tree,
which is 80 feet tall, easily, had fallen across
our neighbors pool, and I remember telling
my dad, Thats Miss Yvettes, shes
gonna be upset that that pecan tree fell in her
pool. (Thats not gonna be a problem
He said he was gonna take a nap, and then I drifted
off, I tried to stay awake, but I drifted off, and
at 8:20, I hear a loud, loud bang. Like someone
blew the door open, or kicked it open, or blew the
door with a dynamite charge, you know? And I jumped
out of the sofa. And took two steps to look through
the doors, the French louvre doors that we used.
And I looked at the door and the water was pouring
in at, I guess about the height of the doorknob,
just pouring in, and you could see the water outside,
it was much higher. And I screamed, Dad, Dad,
theres water! And he said, From
By that time you could hear the windows start going,
Chshh! Chssh!! And, From everywhere,
man, lets get out of here! He says,
wait, wait hes got a couple things to do.
I went outside at this time to try to save my dogs.
I had four dogs in the garage. And this all took
place within 15, 20 seconds. I ran into the garage,
and apparently the water had hit the garage before
it hit the house, because the dogs were under water.
I had set them up so that the wind, any wind damage
that came, they would be safe; if a tree fell on
the garage, they were safe.
These are hunting dogs, so you dont have
to get too upset, these, these dogs were hunting
dogs. But Ive never believed in the notion
that hunting dogs cant be pets, as I imagine
you see, with the way I treat my dogs. These are
both hunting dogs, and I think hunting dogs can
be pets. They respond to human love. And theyre
swimming around, these two. And I go in there, and
I pull up the little carry cart that theyre
in, and theyre all gone, and I take out my
grand champion, and shes gone. [Crying] And
I take out her puppy, which is Christy, my oldest
daughters baby, and, you know, and shes
gone. And I tried to push the water out of her lungs,
and give her mouth-to-mouthor mouth to snoutand
she just didnt respond, you know? She was....she
was gone. And then there were two more that we loved.
There was Milo, and the baby, the puppy.
So I came inside, and went to the back room, and
I looked at my dad, and he could see in my eyes
the pain in my eyes, and I could see pain reflected
back at me. And I said God, I said,
we have to worry about getting ourselves out
of here. At the time he was pulling his drawers
out, putting them in a pile, like he was going to
save something, you know? You go on automatic pilot,
you know? And I said, Dad, we have to get
out of here, were going to die. And
the water was getting higher. By the time we got
out of his room, we had to swim, or go under water
a little bit, to maybe, to here (indicates height
of around six feet). So I just went all the way
under to get through the door frame, and he went,
you know, as quickly as he could, cause hes
carrying, you know, his medicines, and my medicines,
and some clothes that hes grabbed, and Im
running around in a pair of underwear and a hunting
shirt, with a pocket. And he stops in his room to
get something and I said, Dad, the waters
getting higher! and he realizes it, and he
swims under his door frame to get out, I said, Dad,
weve got to get out of here!
And he swims around the corner of the front door,
and he realizes that he cant see light coming
through the door. This all happened in a matter
of minutes, maybe five minutes. And then all of
a sudden he gets upset, he says, Son, weve
gotta get out of here, were gonna die!
I said, Yeah, thats whats gonna
happen. And he went to the door, and he tried
to push the doorthe front door was open, but
theres a wire mesh screen door, on the outside,
a burglar door, or whatever you call it, and he
couldnt budge it, cause the water on
the outside was higher than the water inside, and
the pressure of the water is amazing. He couldnt
budge it, he said, Were trapped!
I said, Lemme give it a try. And you
get a little adrenaline rush when that happens.
So I went under water, and I turned the knob, and
I pushed it, and I pushed it enough for him to get
out, and he said, Come on, come on!
And so I looked back, and, there was nothing left
to get, you know? So I have my shotgun in my hand.
Why a shotgun I have no idea. I have a pair of pants
in one hand, and the medicine hes gave me,
in the same hand as my pants. And, so, we go outside,
and we swim to the top, and we just reach up and
grab the gutter, because its right there by
now, the waters so high that the gutter of
the house is right here. And were buffeted
about by winds, and theres a current coming
from this way, and, you know, Im holding on
to all my stuff with one hand, holding on to the
gutter with the other hand, and he slips off. And
I dropped everythingI dropped everything I
had, which is when my gun went to the bottom....his
pills went floating across the street, but I went
and grabbed him, and pulled him back to the house,
and he was able to grab on, now.
This is a funny storyto me it is, at least.
Ive got this big lab on my back, scared to
death. This girl right here (gestures at dog) Cima
is on my back, scared to death. And Corky is swimming
around. Well, Corky goes swimming, and takes a right
at the end of the house, and I look at her and I
say, Well, that was smart. So I followed
Corky, we both followed Corky, Dad in front of me,
and me with a hand put on his shirt this time because
I didnt want him to slip off again, hes
78 years old. And, um, we get to the corner of the
house, and theres Corky sitting there in calm
water. We go around the corner, and sure enough,
the waters calm, out of the current. Corky
lead us to a safe place. (Laughs) Yeahwithout
Corky, it would have been more difficult. So anyway,
around the corner of the house was where the fence
was, and you could feel around with your feet, and
I could stand up on the fencefence gateand
me and him stood on the fence gate for a while.
But the water kept coming and coming, so much that
pretty soon, you could just step on the roof. And
we did that, we were on the roof.
My dad was always very fastidious. I think Ive
revolted against that all my life, you know, being
a slob, but he was always very fastidious, and was
worrying about all the things he had hung, I
wonder if this is being knocked down, and this is
being knocked down. But one of the things
he was fastidious about was my boats, and he had
the boats all lined up. The smallest one came floating
up, and I grabbed it. And the wind by this time
is at about 140 miles per hour. The eyes passed,
and the wind is coming from the (pause) west. Northwest.
And its stinging us. Stinging us, you know?
And he said, Man, itrain hurts!
So I went off on anot much of a mission, it
was just a walk, but the winds were pretty high
but we figured that there was no other choice but
to be on the roof. And I pulled the boat on top
of him, to try to protect him, because hes
78 years old, you know? And the wind was trying
to pull the boat, you know was trying to get under
the boat, and pull it, you know, flip it off of
Im on top of the boat trying to hold it down.
A big wind would come, it would lift it, and, uh,
out of the corner of my eyea couple of minutes
laterout of the corner of my eye I see a piece
of wood, and then it hit me. Actually theyve
all gone down (indicating former locations of bumps
on his head.) But it hit me, and I hit the boat,
and I was spitting teethspit a couple right
there, but I was spitting teeth for days. But it
didnt hurt at the time.
And you werent hungry, and you werentwell
I was dying for a cigarette, but its the things
that, when you look at life, you know when youre
looking at life in the face, you know? Its
things change. Your priorities arent the same.
So, we were up there for a while until the storm
started abating a bit. I looked to the back and
I see this guy that was in a yellow suit and he
says, Come on over here, Ive got a boat.
There was no way for me to get to him, and I motioned
to him, I cant, I have a 78 year-old,
I motioned to my 78 year-old dad, with me,
and he says, Swim. And I said, No,
I cant swim. So toward the end of the
storm, the wind had abated, and, uh, a boat shows
up from nowhere. And I said, I cant
get in, Ive got dogs! and he says, Get
in with your dogs, man, Im taking yall
right around the corner, theres a 3-story
house. Because we were on top of the house,
and if the water would have rose two more feet,
wed have had to leave. Because, we had two
feet to go.
And so wed a had to, well, wed a flipped
the boat over, we werent gonna try those swimming
across the river things, but, um, anyway,
this guy comes by, and we jump in his boat, and
we go around the corner, literally, about 12 blocks
from my house, and theres a guy with a three
story house. And hes the real hero of the
hurricane. His name is Terry H., and hes the
real hero of the story. His wife was in Houston,
so he came here with us and he wasnt turning
anybody down, in fact, he went and got pants that
would fit me, and anything else we really needed,
you know, from his house. He had a three-story house
and he just realized that it was a total disaster.
So that anything he had, he let us have, you know?
And he was just good as gold, he was a golden guy.
Anyway, were there with 21 people, as it winds
up: the people that you probably would not let in
your house during the normal time.
JOE: Well, minor criminals, you know, petty thieves,
you know. They were the most resourceful. And they
were the people who were running around in these
boats saving old peoples lives. They had the
cojones to chop through attics, and you know, drag
people, and lift people, and put them in the boats.
The people who you wouldnt want in your house
in a normal day, were the heroes of the hour. And
Im not saying that there werent other
AIT: So, Joe, Im really interested in that
part of the story about who you think were the heroes.
Tell me a little more about that?
JOE: Well, the heroes, the big hero is the 20-year
fireman who let everybody in his house. And one
of these guys, one of these little criminals, was
the first oneI shouldnt say criminals,
but I read their names in the paperthe first
one to get there, he started going in through the
guys window. And the guy said, Wait,
wait. You can come in though the door. I mean,
he was coming in! And they went back out and they
saved people, and they saved people, and they saved
Mostly old people, mostly people who had made the
mistake of going into their attic because nobody
thought it was going to flood, and nobody certainly
thought it was gonna flood to 15 feet, so people
went into their attics, and then they were trapped
in their attics, and there were people that died
that way. But if he heard people were knocking,
he was going to get those people, you know? And
bring em wherever he was going to bring em.
AIT: So, okay, so, youre in the house, with
all the kids, and everybody. Youre in the
firemans house. Whats going on?
We get to the firemans house, and he drops
us off, and the first few days we were just kinda
chilling. The first few days. We were back there
7 days. First few days we were just kinda chilling,
and then after that, we started running out. And,
the first time that a law officer came by was probably
the third day.
A law officer came by, and he said, You hear
all that stuff thats being told on the radio,
from Governor Blanco, and from all these officials?
Its total bullshit. Theres nothing down
here for us, theres nothing here. You can
take that at my word. Ive been all over. We
dont have radios, we have to run in contact
with one another. Were using, like, pony express
on horseon boatsto run messages to one
another. We dont even have walkie-talkies
that work. He says, We certainly dont
have, he said some kind of termsatellite
phone is what he said. We certainly
dont have satellite phones, and all the lines
are down for cell phones, and of course land phones.
So, he said, were just, like,
cut off, and nobody cares too much, you know?
They seemingly dont care too much about
St. Bernard. He was very frustrated and disappointed
at this point. He said, What people are doing
is theyre commandeering boats: theyre
going into stores, and you do what youve gotta
do to keep these old people alive.
Cause I was back there with seven old people.
One had muscular sclerosis and congestive heart
failure, she was on a catheter. She was the sickest
lady there. Another man had had a stroke. He had
three mini-strokes while we were back there where
had lost sight in one eye, and he had three mini-strokes
while we were back there. There was my dad, a 78
year-old man who had had a couple of chest operations,
heart operations. But he tends to take care of himself.
There was the daughter of the lady who died. But
she didnt die in the house. So we had to start
rationing. Because people were just eating like
they were at a buffet, you know? And we would go
out, and we would hit a store, and took as many
chips and potted meat, and chili, and ice creamnot
ice creamwater, you know we got some for the
coolers, and pop, as we could, just liquid. And
cigarettes. That was one thing that we didnt
need that we took. And I feel kinda guilty about
that. But the man said to, you know, police gave
us the idea and permission. And as soon as he did,
the little youngsters got in the pirogues, andI
couldnt hot-wire a boat to save my life, but
they came back in minutes with three boats, so we
had an abundance of boats, we were like a little
boat yard, you know? We had an abundance of boats.
And, the next day, somebody comes and says, if
yall can get to the jail, theres a ferry
thatll take you to a bus so you can get out
of here. So, fortunately or unfortunately, all the
young kids, who didnt have affiliation to
these old people, split, thinking they were going
to get out. As it turns out, they waited until the
morning we got out, to ship em.
But they left us, and they told us, when we met
em, that it was the worst thing in the world,
you know, for them. They were sleeping under boxes
and things, and they were all sitting there waiting
for the ferry. The first ferry to comethis
is second-hand knowledge, I wasnt therethe
first ferry to come, came in and New Orleans police
had heard, no doubt, about the fact that there were
so many people at the ferry landing, and that they
were coming up to Algiers. They met the ferry, the
first ferry from St. Bernard to go to Algiers. And
they met them with a SWAT team, and told them that
they couldnt disembark. And so they had to
turn around and come back. I wasnt present
for any of this.
AIT: Why did they get turned back?
Why? God knows. We were back there, just waiting
our time, because the people were really sick, and
couldnt be moved. Particularly this one lady
with multiple sclerosis. She was on all kind of
medication, she was hallucinating, she was very,
very ill. The man who had three TIAs was very, very
ill. Roy, whose son-in-law was okay, but hes
older. The daughter. These are business owners,
you know? She owns the hair salon Le Papillon. You
heard of it? Its right next to the shoe place
on Mumphrey Road? Yeah. Anyway, and she raises birds.
She lost, like, a thousand cockateels during the
But, you know, for those of us who stayed in the
stormmy dad brought this upfor those
of us who stayed, if you left, my dad said, If
wed left, wed be saying, Oh my
god, look at all the stuff we lost! Oh, gee whiz,
we lost all this stuff, and the insurance wont
be covering it because, blah blah blah,
he says, but since we stayed, were like,
Heck with the insurance, were alive.
You know? Were the most important thing.
You know? Without us, you know, 25,000 really doesnt,
you knowyou cant spend money when youre
dead. So, we were happy to be alive, really happy
to be alive, because, you know, what we faced in
that door being closed was very, very close to being
trapped in the house.
Anyhow, yeah, they turned that ferry boat back,
and they went back and waited longer. We were just
sitting at the house, and listening to the radio,
and trying to decide what to do. When to leave.
And I got Ray Nagin on the radio, cause the
radio was just starting to die, and we heard the
Nagin speech. Are you familiar with the Nagin speech?
It seemed to get Washington. I mean, I dont
know if theres a direct correlation, but all
night that night, after the Nagin speech, all night
we saw, I saw 30 or 40 C-10s, I think is what theyre
called the cargo planes that carry a bunch
of stuff. They were landing at the Navy airstrip,
which was right across from us. So, whatever they
were bringing was sorely appreciated, you know?
I know I picked up a couple of Ensures, or Ensure-like
products for my dad, because he wasnt doing
too well, he was dropping a pound a day, and thats
not really good for him, you know? Since hes
old and he was losing strength. And he had just
had surgery lately. So, it was a tough time for
AIT: What did you feel when you heard the Nagin
JOE: I felt the same thing Nagin felt, you know?
I felt bewildered, and angry. [Cell phone call from
daughter interrupts]. Luckily, luckily
When we found out my mom was dying, my daughter
took a bunch of pills, because my daughter is the
caretaker of the family. Shes assumed that
role. And when she found out that my mom was dying,
she took a bunch of pills to
Hell, it was
an attempt to kill herself. Lets not be naive.
Thats a strong drug. She took 15 of them,
I dont know how she lived. But, uh, we got
her to sign herself into a psychiatric hospital,
and the next day, they evacuated. And I really dont
know how Id a gotten my dad and Christy out
of the house and onto the roof.
She didnt know where I was. And they were
hearing terrible, terrible were real
codependent, her and I and she was hearing
terrible, terrible stories about New Orleans. Although
the hospital wouldnt let them watch the news,
there would be an undercurrent of, Gee, its
bad in New Orleans. And they were, of course,
predicting ten thousand dead. I think theyre
low-balling the figure, personally. I think more
than that amount of people died, you know?
My mom had been in St. Ritas, Im sure
youve heard of St. Ritas, but we moved
her to Huntington Place, and at the time of the
hurricane, she was at Lifecare. And she had had
a couple of weeks to go, and they had predicted
her death, and they took her from Lifecare, and
brought her to somewhere out of the path of the
hurricane. We were told somewhere in between there,
she died. Her death is under investigation.
AIT: Your mother? Its currently under investigation?
JOE: Yes. So theres at least a chance, I
believe, that they probably did what they had to
do, I guess, and make hard choices, you know? You
know? Who do we take and who do we leave. But its
not for us to do.
AIT: Im sorry to hear that.
JOE: Yeah. Me too. Cause we were very, very
AIT: So you lost your mom.
JOE: I lost my mom.
AIT: Im so sorry. Youve had a hell
of a time.
JOE: Oh, we havent had a hell of a time,
yet.So anyway, were over there. And
the first day were there, a table floats past,
and I wade out, grab the table, and pull it up on
the porch, and I say, This is my bed,
and everybody, ha ha ha ha, and I said,
No, this is my bed. And I put it on
the porch, and thats where I laid down
didnt hardly do much sleeping, but I laid
down. Cause I knew, of course, theres
no air conditioning. And we didnt have a generator
for any fans or anything. But, um, I slept out there,
and thats where I was able to see the C-10s
But we were in the oil spill area you know, we
were next to Murphy Oil, and as the third and fourth
day came, you could see the oil coming in. It was
a ten million gallon spill. And the oil just got
thicker and thicker on top of the water. And I have
a neighbor who I was with. Me and this neighbor
never get along, we havent gotten along for
years. And he was trying to tell everybody, No,
were gonna stay here, were gonna stay
here until the water goes down, were gonna
rebuild. And I was saying, We cant
stay here, this place is polluted. Look at this.
He says, Man, Joey, thats coming from
the cars, and all this stuff. I said, No,
its not, Al. This is not coming from the cars.
And, You dont know how much oils
in cars. You dont know nothing about nothing
about... Als an interesting fella, an
interesting fella. Ive known him for twenty
years, and hes never been wrong. The oil was
this thick on top of the water (indicates). It was
crude oil, about three inches of crude oil on top
of the water. And we were in that water every day.
Benzene, gasoline, oil. Everything, on top of that
water. And Cima had to go swimming.
I paddled down by the house one time. And my dogs
were in their cage, and I had to let them out, you
know? And give them a burial at sea. And it was
very hard. For me to pull them out and by this time
they were kinda swollen, and... [Crying]
But I managed to pull them out, and push them off,
and the current would take them off, one by one.
And I got to Charlie. Charlie was our favorite,
Charlie would romp around with Cima. And Charlie
was like a 13I had nothing but 13-inch beagles,
you know? And Charlie would romp around with Cima,
and bite her, and Cima would get tired, and shed
just put both paws on top of her, and uh and stop
her, you know? And Id say, Oh, Cima,
And Cimas four years old, and Charlies
like 6 months old. No, its not enough!
Shed roll away, and run up and bite her ear.
It was funny, because Cima wouldnt do anything
to hurt her, you know? They were the best of friends,
you know? They were the best of friends. But Charlie
was the last puppy I pulled out, and I kissed her
and pushed her away. And said, you know? Goodbye
Charlie, youve been a wonderful dog. A wonderful
pet. And she was gonna be a good hunting dog,
as well. She really was. Its unfortunate that
we lost four sentient animals, but, I mean, hell,
there was a thousand-something deaths of humans,
you know? So, you cant, you know, finding
such grief for a dog, is, is kind of, I dont
know if its out there, but its at least.....its
at least....difficult. To lose a dog.
AIT: Dogs are your family?
JOE: Dogs are family. Theyre right below
children. I love my children. Dont get me
wrong, I love them. But I like my dogs better (laughs).
And theyre hunting dogs, but theyre
pets. You know? And they know it. They can wrap
me around their finger, this one (indicates Cima),
particularly. Shes goes up in a duck blind,
and if shes cold, shell crawl up next
to me. All I have to do is watch her, and shell
let me know when the ducks are coming, she watches
When she first started out at 6 months, she would,
she would go and see the duck and I would knock
it down, and shed go out and grab a decoy.
And shed come in with the decoyNo,
no, no, not the decoy! Not the decoy! So Id
shoot another one, and I have an automatic, had
an automatic, and I would fire, and the shell would
eject, and shed go and get the shell. No,
no, no, no, not the shell, not the shell!
So now she knows shes gotta get the duck.
Shed swim out, smell the duck, look at me,
turn around. And Ive gotta call her, Id
say, No, get that duck, fetch that duck!
And she got to where she was fetching ducks. This
was her first year, she was less than a year old.
I had her professionally trained by one of the best
trainers in the country, literally. Im not
just saying that. And I just lucked into him by
calling a lady who sells chocolates. So Bart had
After four months with Bart, she was there from
four months to eight months, I said, Are you
sure thats my dog? Cause she would
heel, she would and she would do doubles, and she
was doing a T-drill, which is where you whistle
stop, and they stop. Over, and they
go over this way, over. Back. She was
great, she wasand shell do that now.
Shes retrieving decoys, shes retrieving
empty shells. She finally gets to retrieving ducks,
and then, she goes out there and a duck is alive.
Right? And she picks up the duck, and the duck turns
around and bites her on the nose. And youd
a thought she was electrocuted! She threw that duck
so far, and swam away! And Im saying, Fetch!
Fetch! And she looks at me like, You
go fetch that duck, Im not fetching that duck,
you know? And it took us a while to get over
that. And then she learned that she could kick a
ducks ass. And then it was on. And then it
was okay. And shes gotten really good. And
shesif you know anything about chocolates,
shes out of the Pachanga line which is one
of the best chocolates, Pachanga. Magna Force is
her grandfather. And the Pachangas a great,
great, great dog. And shes turned out to be
an excellentshes only lost one bird
in three years of hunting. She was unable to find
one bird, and I was unable to find it, as well.
And I used to spend a majority of my huntsbecause
of the conservationist in meif I knocked down
a birdtheyre beautiful, beautiful animals,
you know? Theyre gorgeous. And I feel like
if I knock down a bird, Im gonna stop the
hunt and go get it. And Ive spent hours looking
for a single bird. While birds are flying over my
decoys, and landing in my decoys. No, Im
after this one. Most of the time I find them,
occasionally I wouldnt. And people would say,
Oh, well the coons gotta eat, too,
its like, No, if I shoot these...
Were lucky enough to own 180 acres, my dad
owned it, and my grandfather was a trapper. Were
really Isleños, you know? So he, he got the
land for a ridiculous price back in 1920s. And he
trapped muskrats off of it. And with the opening
of MRGO, of course it ran all the muskrats out.
JOE: Mr. Go? The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet?
That whichthe superhighway to the gulf? That
which allowed the flood to occur in St. Bernard
Parish? Yeah, that MRGO.
In any event, where was I in the story? So were
back there, for days and days. And helicopters start
passing. Well, the helicopters are going by Murphy.
Helicopters are going by Murphy, and we have a big
sign on the door, not on the door, on the
roof Need medical assistance. Need help.
Old, sick people. You know, in big letters
of towels, you know, where we have it all spelled
out with white towels. One helicopter comes by,
and comes by so close that everythings shaking,
the water is. And he looks at us, and he does like
this (thumbs up signal), Oh yeah, great! Were
seen! Theyre seeing us! He flies off.
So, Sunday after the flood. Its been a week.
And we hear airboats. And were screaming,
and were screaming, and were screaming.
And the first airboat, then the second airboat passes,
and somebody notices us, and they turn. And they
both come up and its a politician, and I dont
know whether I should mention his name or not. But
a politician from Central Louisiana comes in. And
he sounded like he was on a stump. He said, Im
Senator Thus-and-such, and our governor and senators
asked me to come look at this to see if theres
anything we could do and they lent me this driver,
And I said, Fine. Theres two airboats,
I said, Weve got old, sick people here,
lets go. And he said, Well, waiwaiwe
dont know where the command center isAnd,
ho-hold on. He gets on the radio, he says,
Well be right back. And vrrruum!
Off they go. So were running like chickens
with our heads cut off, getting everything together,
Hes coming back, hes coming backthis
is like 12 oclock, Hes coming
back. Hes coming back. One oclock,
hes not back. Two oclock, hes
not back. Three oclock, four, five oclock.
He doesnt come back. He doesnt come
back. So the next day, we get up, and I am in despair,
at this point.
Well, I tell you what. I think that, we had been
to the hump the day before. And there was nothing
there. And thats where the headquarters was.
So I believe that they didnt have anything
set up. And he kept on asking us, Is there
any nursing homes in this area? Is there any, you
know, photo ops in this area? He didnt
say photo ops. But he said, Is there any nursing
homes, is there any bunches of old people?
I said, I got a bunch of old people right
here! And I feelI felt despair, and
I felt that if Id a said, Senator Gautreaux,
get out of this boat, and come see these people.
If hed a saw this lady sitting back there
with a bag, you know? And if hed seen the
guy with his lip hanging, I dont think the
man could have slept that night before we were rescued.
Well, the next morningand my little rival
in the group says, Yep, see? See? He aint
coming to get us! I said, Man...
By this time, Id about had it. Because Im
disappointed, too. Were lucky we didnt
have any altercations, cause he wanted to
stay until the water went down and rebuild his house.
He said, Where am I gonna go? I aint
got nowhere to go! Its like, Man,
look. Well, where are we going to go?
Theyre going to put us in a tent city, were
not going to be able to leave, and were going
to be in jail wherever we go! I said, Were
American citizens, we havent done anything
wrong. Except for looting the stores. And the police
told us to do it. You know? What do you think theyre
He says, Yeah, thats
what I think, theyre gonna put us in jail.
I said, Okay, well, I dont think that.
Well, the next morning at about 11:30, we start
hearing the airboat. And theyre looking for
us. But they couldnt pinpoint us. Well, they
got to us about 12 oclock. What day is this?
The storm was Monday. So this was Sunday. They got
to us. And they, one of the guys in another boat
is a EMT, and they called him over, cause they saw
the lady with the bag, and they called him over,
and he comes in his airboat, and he does a cursory
check on her, he says, She needs to go now.
So we got a mattress and we picked her up, and put
her in the first airboat, and her daughter, who
has a raging infection on her leg from this oil
and this benzene in the water. But shes not
worried about herself, shes worried about
her mom. But this was a bad infection. It was bad.
And her son-in-law get on the first airboat, vrrrrram!
off they go. And then the next airboat, they got
the guy with the TIAs, he had three TIAs during
the week. And his wife, his son, Dave. He was one
of the three guys that was really helping out. And
a couple of dogs that he had adopted (laughs), through
the week. And, vrrrooom, off they go. And then on
the last, on the last boat, its me and my
dad and my two dogs. And Mr. Al, the neighbor from
across the street, old man. And vrrrrroom, off we
And we get to the first command center. And the
ladys on the neutral ground. (Which is the
median, you call it here.) Shes dead. She
died, the lady with the bag. The lady who we kept
alive for seven days. Who they took first! Who,
if theyd have took her the day before, she
might be with us today. And while were comforting
Diane, the daughter, and telling her, Shes
in a better place, baby, shes not in pain
anymore. (I dont believe that shit,
you know, but Im telling her that shes
in a better place.)
So, were sitting there and waiting for our
turn to get on the bus. And it didnt take
too long. So I started to get on the bus, and they
said, No dogs on the bus. And I said,
Well, I understand. My dogs arent gonna
take somebodys place. Just tell me which way
I should start walking. And the guy behind
me said, Yeah, tell me which way we start
walking. And the guy behind him had a big
dog, and he said, Look, lets put the
dogs in a pirogue, and well paddle out to
the MRGO, which is right out there, and take a left
and thats toward Houston, right?
And they said, Look, yall just go sit
down in the shade, were dog lovers. Were
gonna fight for yall. And theyre
arguing with somebody on the phone, and they said,
Were fighting for yall,
you know? And it was a good sign. And they said,
Okay, everybody with dogs come and get on
this bus. And I went to get on, and they said, Im
sorry, sir, just one dog per person. And I
said, Look, I said, One of these
dogs belongs to my dad. (Winks) My dad said,
Yeah, yeah, one of these belongs to me.
So he had to hold Corky, the little beagle. And
I had to hold a big 85 lb Lab in my lap. And they
decontaminated us again. I think we took showers.
After having not had a shower in a week, awarm shower
felt wonderful, you didnt want to get out
of there. And, it was over, you know? We were put
on buses. Goodbye to everybody who we had spent
a week bonding with, you know? And we were put on
buses and sent to the airport.
And we left my Parish, my beloved Parish, which
had become a festering hell, and when we were coming
to land [was] the first time I heard where we were
going: Were entering....
you know, whatever the name of the airport is in
Austin where youre gonna be for
a few days, and were glad we could be of service,
and blah, blah, blah. We landed. And we got
on the bus, and we came on a circuitous routeit
seemed circuitous at the time, at leastto
the Convention Center.
Every turn I thought they were going to try to
take my dogs. At every turn. And we get off the
bus, and the first people that come up, walked up
to me and said, About your dogs
and ImI got my hackles up, About
my dogsdont mess with me about my dogs.
I been working 28 years, and I all I have here is
my dogs. And my dad. Thats it. Everything
else is gone. And he says, No, no, sir,
no. Were from the Humane Society and want
to offer your dogs a place to stay and some food
and some water. And I said, Oh, youve
gotta be kidding! We dont have anything like
that in New Orleans! You know? I mean if something
happened in Austin, and yall came to New Orleans,
wed give youwed feed you, but
we would never do what Austin did for us, you know?
So the first people to meet me off the bus was
the Humane Society. And then, I must have looked
like a wild man. I hadnt had my diabetes medication
or my blood pressure medication. My blood pressure
gets pretty out there, you know? So I think it was
like 400 over 190 or something like that. And they
said, you need to go to the E.R. And I said, Not
before I talk to my daughter. I know my daughter
Christy, shes gonna be frantic. Shes
gonna say, Well, look, Ill just go down
to St. Bernard and find him.
Theyre gonna say, St. Bernard is totally
evacuated, and shell just say, Well,
Ill go from evacuation house to evacuation
house, and Ill find em. Thats
what my mind has her saying, you know? Because shes
gonna be that worried about me. Well, they had kept
the news from the kid. Kids they were adults.
They had kept the news from them as much as possible.
And they had evacuated them to Memphis. And within
two hours, a policewoman from Austin was able to
contact my daughter, and were on the phone
crying, crying, crying. Youre okay,
Daddy? Yeah, Im okay. Is
Pa okay? Yeah, hes okay. But I
got some bad news, baby. There aint....
The bad news, Daddy. Youre okay, and
Pas okay, she said. Theyre
talking about theres gonna be three or four
thousand people gonna be dead in New Orleans alone,
and I know it hit St. Bernard harder. You
know, she just, shes lived there for 17 years.
18 years. And, um, we cried, and cried and cried.
And then I went to the hospital. And here I am.
Oh! I left out an important part. I did leave out
an important part. I really did.
We get put on a bus, they had us on a bus with
the dogs. And we go to Port Ship Service [in Arabi,
Louisiana] and then we turn around and go back to
a building right off of Paris Road [in St.Bernard
Parish, where they began.]
And so we get off and we wash our feetwe
dont wash those feet, we decontaminate our
feet. Supposedly. Then we get back on the bus and
we go behind Kaiser [Hospital]. My legs are pretty
beat up from climbing on the roof. But my dads
legs are worse. And he had a lot of pus. And his
nails had turnedthis is kinda grosshis
nails had turned yellow, and they were turning green.
But we were saved. And my dad, his whole
whats the word, Im
at a loss for words
His whole goal for the
week was to live. You know, hes had four heart
attacks and he wants to just live. And he lived,
and he was happy. You know?
There was this little doctor, about half your size
[indicates interviewer] and you could tell she was
military, pure military. Shes barking orders
to these 300 lb. men, and theyre running aroundlike
it was almost comical
if it wasnt, you
know? Theyre running around like, Patton is
there, you know? And, uh, she comes to my dad: Hello,
Sir, and shes very polite. She says,
I see youve got some wounds here,
and shes dressing the wounds, and she writes
them down and she hands them to the guy. He runs
off. And shes dressing the wounds, and being
very gentle. You have one here, you have one
back here Oh, I didnt even
know about that, yeah. She dresses the wounds.
She moves on to the next person. And shes
got somebody comes up with a stretcher. And I said,
Daddy, Daddyyou okay? And he says,
Hes munching contentedly on a cracker. He
says, Fine, fine, Im all fine. Is somebody
sick? And she looks up and she says, You
are, sir. Youre getting on that stretcher,
and were Medivac-ing you out of here,
you know? And she wasnt a lady that you said,
But, but, it was like, Yes, maam!
(Laughs.) So he got his stuff, and laid down, and
I grabbed himlike M*A*S*H, you know? You go
under the helicopter
After having nothing back there, for six days,
all of a sudden everything is here. Everything.
Theyve got a chopper on the ground, theyve
got a chopper waiting to land, theyve got
a chopper behind them, waiting to get in the place
where theyre waiting to land, you know? It
was amazing. So we ran my dad out, he hands me a
piece of paper. I said, Whats this?
Its justits for you.
And I read it and its a
gives me control
of the house in the event of his death. Im
the arbiter of his estate, you know? And I said,
Gee whiz, Pop. I dont want this.
He says, You hold it. When we get back together,
well tear it up, but for now, you hold it.
I said, Okay, Daddy, now you just take it
easy in that hospital. He says, I will.
Believe me. You know? And that was the part
that I missed. You know? So they fly him off. Oh,
I asked him, Where you going? They said,
I dont know. So when I got here,
I contacted my daughter, and then it wasfind
out where my dad was. And I also had to contact
my younger daughter. Who was also kinda worried
about us. Thats it.
AIT: St. Bernard Parish, is
JOE: Caught the eye [of the hurricane].
AIT: Do you think theres any going back?
JOE: Im going back. Were going back
to Violet. My dad had moved up the road. My brother
died when I was 8 years old, he died crossing the
street to go serve mass. He was twelve. And a motorcycle
hit him. And he was nearly decapitated. But my mom
wouldnt live in that house any more. And I
can understand her point of view. You know? I really
can. But my dad loved, loved that place.
AIT: Tell me more about your dads history
there. And your familys history there.
JOE: My grandfather was a trapper. For a living.
And thats what he did in the old days, he
AIT: Was he born in Louisiana
JOE: Oh, yeah. Our familys here from 1787.
Everybodys born down there. So he sold the
property to my dad, who built a proper house, cause
they had, you know, one of the old shotguns with
holes in the walls, and whatnot. And my dad knocked
that down and built a proper brick house. And we
lived in that until my brother got killed and then
my mother wouldnt let him stay, couldnt
stay there. And I guess I understand that, but my
dad had the lawn manicured like a golf course, you
know? Hed come home everyday and do yard work.
Tomatoes, he had 64 chickens. I remember Hurricane
Betsy. I remember it. And we went out there in the
eye of Hurricane Betsy. And the chickens were okay,
and then after the storm, the chicken house had
been knocked down, and most of them were dead. Yeah.
We ate chicken for a month after that. My dad is
a wonderful, wonderful dad.
AIT: What was your childhood like?
JOE: Well, my childhood was happy until my brother
died. And then it was uneven, because my parents
were very shook up by the death of my brother. Theyve
never gotten over it. But it took them 10 years
just to say his name, you know? We were a close
AIT: Where did you go to school?
JOE: I went to school, for a few years at Bormeth
[?] Elementary, right in the area. And then went
to school at St. Marks School. Which is in
Chalmette, right around the corner from my house.
Went there from 3rd to 8th grade. Then spent the
year in Chalmette, then went to the high school
seminary in Texas for a couple of years. Spent that
same year in Chalmette. Went back to the seminary
for a couple of years, and realized that there was
one thing that I couldnt deal with as a seminarian,
or priest. Other than that, Id a probably
made my way. But celibacy for a nineteen year old
is next to impossible. At least for this nineteen
year old. But they understood that that was probably
one of the most common reasons. Had I thought it
out? Hell yeah, Id thought it out, Id
been thinking about that since, hell knows when.
But it was a good experience. Learned a lot.
AIT: Where did you teach?
JOE: Oh. Ive been teaching 20 years. I taught
for a few years in St. Bernard Parish, in Plaquemines
Parish, a year in Orleans. And then I took some
time off for a return-to-roots things. Yeah, I wanted
to see what it was like to be a trapper and a hunter
for a living. Yes, maam. Never worked so hard,
been so poor, in all my life. Worked from morning
till night. And was poorer than a.... whatever you
can say. It was tough. It was tough. If I could
have made a living at itmoneys not real
important to me. You know? I studied for the priesthood,
I believe a lot of those ideals. You know? I believeI
truly believe, my daughter holds the same beliefthat
the reason weve gotten so much help here,
in Austin, is karma. You know? I spent most of my
life helping other people. And, I come here, and
its almost like Im picked out of a crowd.
You know? Here, let me be your benefactor. And that
AIT: Id come back love to interview you again
so I can get a really good grip on what that cultures
JOE: Yeah, it is an interesting culture. From the
home remedies they use, to the utensils they use,
to the way they harvested game. I know my uncle,
or my dads uncle was a market hunter, and
he would shoot ducks and put them on a line. You
know nothing like limits, you know? And put them
on the highway. What he didnt sell on the
highway, that day, hed bring them up to the
restaurants in New Orleans, that would snap em
up. I think they paid less for them, it must have
been. There were market hunters, and fisherman,
and my grandfather was a trapper. What he knew how
to do, you know? He was good at it. You know?