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November 01, 2005  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

School buses sail to the rescue

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Captain John Walsdorf came in later. I also made sure he knew I wanted to go on the mission. I reminded him that I was a former Army military policeman.

During the meeting to discuss the mission, I encouraged them to use only one bus. One bus would make it easier to get in and out with. They were also concerned that there were people who were unable to climb the stairs. I said I’d pick them up and put them on the bus.

Not much later, I heard the SWAT team coming down the hallway in their vests and helmets. As I stood at the door of the EOC, Captain Walsdorf stopped and signaled to me, “Let’s go, Gary.” I went up the stairs two at a time. He laughed and told me to save some of it for the mission.

Captain Walsdorf told me that we were going to rescue approximately 40 people from the convention center. There might be gunfire and dead bodies.

We had two unmarked police cars — one in front and one in the rear of the bus — and we drove into New Orleans with all lights out. Only the ambient light from lights on the overpass above us were lit. Other than that, it was pitch dark. We parked out of the line of sight of the convention center.

About 30 yards ahead was a completely vandalized New Orleans Police car. The SWAT team and National Guardsmen took up their positions all around us. My job was to stay at the door of the bus to quickly load the evacuees.

I was looking toward the front of the bus, where the National Guardsmen said the convention center was, when someone bumped into my back and said, “Excuse me.” It was the people we were picking up. They were behind us.

I told them to keep their heads down, move to the back of the bus and not look out the windows. I literally had to push one big guy up the stairs.

Many of them had dropped their bags. As I reached for the bags, the call came over the radio, “Move the bus! Move the bus!” People at the convention center were beginning to challenge SWAT team members at the edge of our security zone. One deputy said they were moving toward them almost like zombies.

When we pulled up to the St. Charles Hospital, the people on the bus broke into tears. Staff members of the hospital and the EOC, sheriff’s deputies and family members of the staff had lined the emergency ramp and were clapping and cheering.

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