NEW ORLEANS — Despite mandatory evacuation orders as Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans, thousands of hurricane-hardened residents elected to stay put to try and ride out what experts warned would be a potentially devastating storm. For some, the decision was expected to be the wrong one.
“I’m expecting that some people who are die-hards will die hard,” Jefferson Parish council President Aaron Broussard told the Associated Press.
Officials of the parish, southwest of downtown New Orleans, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that emergency units were unable to respond to 911 calls.
"The winds are too strong for even our most basic emergency units," Emergency Management Director Walter Maestri told the newspaper. "Our greatest concern right now is our inability to get to the streets to render any assistance or to confirm what we are hearing."
Some who stayed behind admitted it was the wrong decision.
‘Come get me. ... I want to live’
“I’m not doing too good right now,” Chris Robinson said in a brief interview with the AP via cellphone from his home east of New Orleans. “The water’s rising pretty fast. I got a hammer and an ax and a crowbar, but I’m holding off on breaking through the roof until the last minute. Tell someone to come get me please. I want to live.”
Engaged couple Bryan Vernon and Dorothy Bell also decided to stay, and help came just in time. They sat on the roof of their one-story home for three hours before a sheriff's deputy towing a boat noticed them.
"It was just devastating," Vernon told the Associated Press. "I've never encountered anything like it in my life. It just kept rising and rising and rising."
Bell, having lived through Hurricane Betsy, had told her fiance that they should leave. But he chose to ride it out and she refused to leave his side.
On the roof, Vernon tried to reassure Bell that they would make it, even as cars passed them by without even slowing down.
"I love you and I'm going to get you through this safely," he said as they shivered in the rain on their slate roof. "It's my fault I got us into this."
Flooding not a problem for some
But the Times-Picayune said that some residents, including some in areas that saw flooding, were doing fine despite the damage occurring nearby.
"The wind's pushing pretty hard here," Paul Garrett, a resident of the hard-hit 9th Ward of New Orleans, was quoted as saying. "But it doesn't seem to be destroying any rooftops. We're doing OK."
Garrett and his neighbor, Arnold Scott, told the newspaper they stayed behind to guard properties and protect neighbors who were unable to relocate, including a mother with a son paralyzed in a recent shooting and a 56-year-old man with a broken leg.
"There's a little guy that's paralyzed down the street, and he and his mother didn't get a chance to get out," Garrett told the paper. "We didn't want to leave, and then come back and find them dead or something. I made some rafts so I can get down there as fast as I can if I need to. I'm just hoping the water doesn't come in one big surge."
No way out for residents without cars
Dan Fuller, a 74-year-old New Orleans artist, had a difficult time escaping to a safe haven because he didn't have a car, the New Orleans paper reported.
"I thought I would hitchhike and just count on people's generosity, but I can't say if they were generous or not — all their cars were full," he told the Times-Picayune on Sunday, a suitcase in tow.
Others were hunkered down in what figured to be a sturdier refuge — the Louisiana Superdome.
But even the massive 77,000 seat stadium wasn’t impervious to Katrina’s fury.
Wind peeled pieces of metal from the golden roof, leaving two holes that let water drip in on some of the approximately 8,000 people gathered inside. Those directly under the new skylights moved out of the way, but others calmly watched as sheets of metal flapped and rumbled loudly.
From the floor, looking up more than 19 stories, it appeared to be openings of about six feet long. Outside, one of the 10-foot, concrete pylons set up around the Superdome blew over.
Hotel windows blown out
Hotel guests also were treated to some unplanned ventilation, as scores of windows were blown out.
At the Windsor Court Hotel, guests were told to go into the interior hallways with blankets and pillows and to keep the doors closed to the rooms to avoid flying glass.
At the hotel Le Richelieu, the winds blew open sets of balcony French doors shortly after dawn. Seventy-three-year-old Josephine Elow of New Orleans pressed her weight against the broken doors as a hotel employee tried to secure them.
“It’s not life-threatening,” Elow said as rain water dripped from her face. “God’s got our back.”
Elow’s daughter, Darcel Elow, was awakened before dawn by a high-pitched howling that sounded like a trumpeting elephant.
“I thought it was the horn to tell everybody to leave out the hotel,” she said as she walked the hall in her nightgown.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.