Video: Great escape

msnbc.com
updated 9/13/2005 1:30:07 PM ET 2005-09-13T17:30:07

Lorrie Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw are paramedics from San Francisco who were attending an EMS conference in New Orleans at the time that Hurricane Katrina hit town. 

Their tale of attempted evacuation and eventual survival has spread since they were able to escape from New Orleans and return home. On Monday, they joined MSNBC's Chris Matthews to tell their story.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Larry, tell us, you and Lorrie tell us what happened to you as people who were in this area at that time. 

LARRY BRADSHAW, HURRICANE SURVIVOR:  Hi, Chris. 

We were caught up with tens of thousands of people that couldn't get out of New Orleans before the hurricane hit.  Our flight was canceled.  We were unable to reschedule.  And we couldn't find a rental car anywhere.  So, we hunkered down to ride out the hurricane.  And we knew it would be bad for the first couple days.

And we thought, after the second or third day, things would start to improve.  But each day deteriorated.  It got worse, as opposed to improving.  By the fourth day, on Thursday, we were really low on water, food.  And sanitary conditions were pretty bad in the hotels in the French Quarter.  So, the hotels had to close their doors and they told us we would be relocated to the Convention Center. 

So, on Thursday morning, about 200 set out from our hotel to the Convention Center.  And, en route to the Convention Center, we encountered the National Guard for the first time and later the police.  And they told us, we wouldn't be allowed into the Superdome, that it had turned into a humanitarian and health cesspool and that the Convention Center was also closed.  They didn't want any more people going there. 

So, our natural reaction was, well, if the two major shelters, we couldn't go to the Superdome or the Convention Center, what do we do?  And, essentially, we were told that was our problem, that there was nothing they could do. 

So, 200 or so of us decided, not having any real option, that we would camp in front of the police command post across from Harrah's and just sort of ride it out for a few days to see what would develop.  We were told we couldn't stay there, but, again, we didn't have any other options.  We kind of set up camp and tried to stay out of the way as best we could. 

And, after about an hour, a gentleman came out and identified himself as a commander from the police command post and said, I have a solution for you.  I have some buses for you across the bridge.  All you need to do is walk up on Highway 90, cross the bridge, and I have buses waiting to take you away.  And a big cheer went up among our crowd and people started to move.

And Lorrie Beth and I were a little bit wary.  And we asked the commander two or three different times, are you sure there are buses?  There have been so much bad information and wrong information.  Are you sure there are buses waiting for us across the bridge?  He looked at the crowd of 200 and he told us, I swear to you there are buses there. 

So, we were pretty jubilant by then.  So, we set out, probably grinning ear to ear, pulling our luggage behind us, heading up to the bridge.  It's about a two- to three-mile walk.  And we had to walk past the Convention Center.  And here we are, a group of very determined-looking tourists, who looked like we knew where we were going and people were asking us, where are you going?  What's going on? 

We told them the good news, that there were buses waiting for us.  So, people were grabbing their meager belongings and families were joining us and our numbers kept just swelling and getting bigger and bigger. 

LORRIE BETH SLONSKY, HURRICANE SURVIVOR:  And this is where this group had doubled, like Larry said, like, probably 400, 500, 600 people. 

And we were making our way up the on-ramp when it started pouring down rain.  And here we are, a group of people just about reaching the crest of the on-ramp when shots were fired, which wasn't unusual, because we had been hearing shots and sirens and helicopters all day long.  But what was frightening was that they were so close to us. 

And when the shots went off, our group just scattered.  And we came down to probably a handful of people.  And this is the point where Larry had approached the sheriff's department.  I believe they're called deputies there with his badge and his hands up and asked if we could approach.  And they still had their guns pointed directly at Larry and me and our group of folks. 

And they allowed us to approach.  And Larry explained that we were told to come across the bridge, so that we could get on these buses.  And we were turned back.  We were told we absolutely could not come on to the bridge, that the deputy had told us, we are not going to have another New Orleans, and we're not going to have another Superdome on the other side of the bridge, which is Gretna. 

So, pretty discouraged, we did turn around and started to go back down, where we discovered an embankment area on I think it is called the Pontchartrain Expressway.  And we a group of about 50, 60 70 people, found an area that was protected.  It was concrete this way and this way.  And we made ourselves inside of it. 

MATTHEWS:  What happened then, Larry? 

BRADSHAW:  Right at dusk, as we were sort of settling in, feeling like we could ride this out for three or four days, five days, until enough buses came to transport us all out. ... All of a sudden, a Gretna sheriff's patrol car showed up and an officer jumped out with his shotgun aimed at us, screaming and yelling and cursing at us to 'get off the F-ing freeway' and was just unapproachable, just would not let us talk, would not let us say anything, was waving the gun in the face of the families and children, and just chased us out of the camp.  It is now dark.  It's martial law. 

SLONSKY:  Shoot-to-kill policy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, was this a race thing, Larry and Lorrie Beth?  I want to bottom-line this.  Was this a racial incident, where there was prejudice against people?  Was your group largely African-American or mixed or what? 

BRADSHAW:  It was predominantly African-American.  And the only two explanations we ever got... I saw the Gretna sheriff quoted in "The Independent" on Sunday and he said, we couldn't let "these people" cross the bridge or Gretna would have looked like New Orleans, burned, looted and pillaged.  So, I believe it was about race. 

MATTHEWS:  Lorrie Beth, is that your assessment? 

SLONSKY:  It is absolutely my assessment.  It had to do with a group of predominantly African-American folks and maybe -- I can count on one hand how many white people.  And he said it clearly himself, the sheriff, in newspaper accounts. ... He is not denying that. 

Watch 'Hardball' each weeknight at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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