Seven nights in the Superdome

With flood waters in New Orleans still receding, stories of those who survived Hurricane Katrina continue to trickle in. Chicoan Deborah Eckersley, an insurance investigator, alerted the CN&R to the tale of a colleague’s uncle, who spent seven nights trapped in the Superdome. Excerpts of our phone conversation with Allan Griffin, a 59-year-old security guard and New Orleans resident, follow.

“I had my truck—a ‘99 Jimmy GMC truck, four-wheel drive. I had [family] in Morgan City, but I didn’t know this thing was going to get that bad. Traffic was creeping—moving very slowly, so I figured the safest place I could head for was right across the river at the Superdome. That’s how I wound up at the Superdome—I thought everything would be safe. I never dreamed there’d be so much water in the city.

“That night, all the lights were out, we looked like we were in Beirut or somewhere. Helicopters were picking people up and bringing more people in the Superdome. At that time we must have had 35,000 people in there. The place was packed and there wasn’t nothing going on. Not a soul was getting out and they were bringing more and more people.

“Later that night all chaos broke loose. When the storm came, I thought the whole roof was going to come off. You could look out on the field … you got sewer water backing up. We’re wondering where this water’s coming from but there was no communication.

“They had hoodlums up in the place, and they started breaking into everything—the vending machines and the hallways and everywhere. They started stealing. After the first night, Sunday night, it was something awful. They started fighting. Children everywhere, people everywhere. The smell was terrible.

“We heard a huge explosion—that was Monday or Tuesday. Everything was dark. The news media couldn’t get in. We looked out at the Interstate and at the Hyatt-Regency—all the windows were broken out and there was furniture hanging out the windows. I’ll never forget that.

“They say the shopping center was on fire. The sky lit up. The people at the convention center were trying to get to us but there was no way—the water was too deep. There were people walking on the interstate trying to get to us. I don’t know why—maybe they thought the living was better. But the Superdome was completely terrible. The water was coming up, but [people] wouldn’t come in the dome because they were frightened. I was frightened myself.

“[The worst thing I was saw] was the raping. I couldn’t go in the building anymore. I was really getting freaked out, so I just found me a designated spot in the car parking ramp and put my back up to the wall. We were laying on cardboard trying to stay dry, with the water rising up around the damn thing. People were walking around like they’re up to something—up to no good. But it was all chaos. I just tried to stay awake, put my back up against the weir because I didn’t want to go down too deep in the dome. They were fighting in there, they was raping back there. Apparently they must have got into some of the suites up there, drinking … Some of the criminals up in there, the people were laying out there and instead of giving those people (food and water), they were selling it to them.

“You could smell sickness, you could smell death.

“They had people stuck in wheelchairs in the corner—bodies of people dead, you hear what I’m telling you? They had dead people in the dark spots—they must have had an emergency light system with a light every half-mile in the corridors around the building. People were crying.

“The National Guard was there but they were just young kids—they looked scared too. “Then they started disappearing. They must have told those boys to pull back, and when you looked around, all them son-of-a-guns was gone, man. At first it was an eerie feeling, like all of us were going to be sacrificed. I thought I was on my last days.

“At night when we were sitting beside the Superdome, we would see bodies floating by. Why would the people in the boats not get the people out of the water? I think that was awful. Bodies floating in the damn water around the Superdome. They say the building next to us, they were putting dead bodies in there.

“When the real Army came in there, that’s when things started rolling. The general—I could’ve kissed him. We heard that they had buses but they were waiting for authorization to send them in. They had too many chiefs. I think they waited too long.

“I don’t know about any racism, but I still think some of that is ridiculous. To shut down a whole metropolitan city, that’s unreal. Is it racial? I don’t know, I don’t think so. It’s the chain of command. They had whites there, too. They were frightened to death.

“When we were getting on the bus, I had this woman’s two little girls; she had asked me [for help]. [The crowd] was pushing and pushing and I’m telling the lady I didn’t want to get on there without her, without the girls’ mama. I said, ‘Come on lady,’ I was scared because I had her two girls. But we got on the bus right in the nick of time.

“When we were on our way out of there, we were filthy, smelling. I thought we were going to Houston, but there were too many people going there so they told us to keep rolling. So we ended up in Dallas/ Fort Worth. They gave us some clothes—we hadn’t taken a bath in seven days. Texas was good. They helped us out, gave us a hot meal. Them C-rations was all right but we wanted some real food.

“I’m thankful to be up here, man.

“I’m going to stay in Dallas out here. I’m willing to stay two years or so. I don’t have anything to go back to. I’m trying to get a place here now … It’s a nice area here. I really don’t even know this city at all—I’ve never been up in this region here and I’m completely lost.

“I got my Allan Jr., and my daughter, they went up to Lafayette area. Last I heard they got out of there alive. I don’t know where my youngest boy, Rasshan is. Him and his wife, I haven’t heard from them. He was living with his mother in the Ninth Ward, and according to the scenes on the TV, it’s all been destroyed. I heard they’re going to bulldoze all them houses—nice houses, man. But it’s all lower-land areas. Now they’re saying those houses shouldn’t be there anyway.

“Everybody already knows Louisiana’s so corrupt. It’s politics, big money. If you fix it, fix it right, because Louisiana’s a beautiful place. People are asking if New Orleans can come back—it’s got to come back.” At a time when same-sex marriage is still a hot-button topic in this country, Chico State University will offer a course of study that deals with the taboo issue of sexual diversity.

After years of planning and organizing, Chico State students will be able to declare a minor in sexual diversity studies beginning this semester. The university joins Humboldt State and San Francisco State (S.F. State also offers a master’s in human sexuality) as only the third campus in the CSU system to offer a minor in sexual diversity studies.

“Students are interested in this and we want to offer a scholarly perspective,” said Liahna Gordon, a sociology professor at Chico State. “The general public tends to get rehashed perspectives not grounded in science and research.”

The minor will cover LGBTQ issues (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning), but Gordon added that topics will also touch on sexual diversity issues based on race, class and religion as well as the sexual practices of heterosexuals that may not be considered part of the norm.

“My goal is not to say ‘this is OK or this is not OK,'” Gordon said. “It’s to get [students] to learn why they have these responses and why others may have different responses.”