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Freddie’s Story

Photos by Rebecca Ross

The part that they showed on TV
is where I come from. 
Right there.  Lower and Upper
Ninth Ward.  When the rain came,
it rained and rained,
              and the wind was so strong
                               it pulled up the big, old trees— 
I’m talking three hundred year old trees—
like they was nothing and blew them
blocks away.  When the storm came,
the water was deep but clear. 
When the levee broke, everything backed up.
              Then the water come
                               like a tidal wave
pushing houses off their foundations . . .
bam bam bam.  The locks were closed
but water came underneath . . .  boom boom boom.  
I was in my wheelchair and the water
was this height.  I said, Uh-oh,
              we gotta get out of here. 
                               We made a raft of doors, 
and tied my wheelchair down.
You could see that water coming.  Whoa
I never panicked.  I never was scared. 
I was prepared, pleased I could swim. 
When I fell in and went down,
              I relaxed and come back up,
                               then started swimming. 
If you lose control,
you going to lose focus. 
You ain’t going to think right.
The water turned icky―full
of sewage and dead animals. 
              I swam the whole way
                               and my brother rolled
my chair up on the Claiborne overpass. 
That’s where we stayed for seven days. 
We built little houses
with old wood fences that washed by. 
Everybody got diarrhea,
              and people with open sores
                               got bubbles on their legs. 
The water was so deep you could hear
the houses in New Orleans collapse. 
All night the sound of crying
Dogs barking, cats screaming. 
On the 3rd day, helicopters
              come with rations.  By then
                               people was delirious.
We had reporters taking pictures. 
They come right up to the bridge.
I said, Give us water,
but they took my picture. 
The President didn’t come.
              He went to Mississippi
                               for a big photo op. 
Finally, they began to airlift the sick.
One woman I talked to cried all night
cause she ran out of her arthritis medicine. 
She showed me her bag full of empty bottles.
They told her the harness was safe.
              She was a big lady,
                               maybe 250 lbs. 
She got all the way up to the helicopter
and then she fell.  Her body hit the bridge
like an accordion, and we knew from her position
she was dead.   I think, personally,
with the constant pain, she tired of living. 
              She had lost her home,
                               her city, her health. 
She just wanted to go. 
People talking about, move on
It’s hard when you’ve lost everything. 
I wore out on the seventh day. 
I didn’t think I would make it.
              I thought the water would go back down, 
                               but it never moved.  It never moved.

*

I would like to elaborate on the stories
about the murders and the rapes in the Superdome. 
People had been there four days without food
or water.  They was trying to get out. 
They were told to come to the Superdome
              and they did.  Then nobody
                               let them leave.  Those babies
died from malnutrition. 
No water, no food
It was survival of the fittest. 
That’s what it was.
The fascinating part is that people
              from Saudi Arabia, Russia,
                               wanted to send doctors. 
Some folks came with their own money—
three big trucks with medical supplies—
but the head of FEMA wouldn’t let them
in the city.  He had a big old power struggle
with the governor who was fighting
              with the mayor, but the mayor
                               does not control the levee.
The federal government is in charge of the levee. 
There’s a big old lawsuit going on right now,
but ain’t nobody going to take responsibility.
We asked the guys who come to get us,
What took you so long?
              When they got to us,
                               it was too late. 
I knew a lot of the people died.
They had one lady on the phone
they had told to
(I was listening on the radio)
cut a hole in the roof
              and climb out with her baby.
                               There’s 100 degree heat
in those attics!  80% humidity! 
The foundation gave way.
They found her with the baby
cradled by her body
as if to protect it. 

2

When we got here, everybody talking about
starting over.  Let me tell you,
it ain’t easy.  Ain’t nobody
              to help me. 
                               I asked for help,
but the lady who interviewed me
said I was too independent.  Gal,
I said, you ought to encourage
              people to be independent.
                               I do my own cooking.
I’m on a high protein diet
and drink lots of cranberry juice. 
That’s why I’ve survived. 
              I been in a wheel chair
                               with a spinal cord injury
since my car accident in ’83..
I can tell the difference with
the ones that learn how
              to be self-sufficient. 
                               If they’re not self-reliant,
they don’t live long, trust me. 
They break down.  They try to resume
their life as it was, and in actual reality
              it takes five years for your body
                               to come back to where
you have some kind of control over it. 
The mind got to be refocused
and you got to change your friends. 
              I would also like to comment
                               on the corruption of the FEMA
representatives in charge of accounts
here in Phoenix who gave evacuees’
social security numbers
              to their own family members
                               who embezzled our money. 
If your FEMA number was frauded
you have been ignored and put on hold.
Why?  Some of us scammed are struggling
              so hard and cannot get help
                               with necessary things
that life requires, or retrieve us
some dignity and happiness possible
with all the sadness of separation
              from our families and lifelong friends.
                               I struggle to keep going. 
I am the “only paraplegic/ handicapped
individual” to graduate from the Arizona
Automotive Institute.  I have the drive
              to help myself since
                               the government can’t seem to
do me right.  I say to people that needs help,
Don’t take the easy way out.
Keep yourself from the negative.
              I have a zest for life.
                               What’s the alternative? 

by Cynthia Hogue

To read Cynthia's Interview click here



 
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