When Xavier Bowie died in a flooded neighborhood, his common-law wife did the only thing she could think to do. She wrapped his body in a sheet, laid him on a makeshift bier of two-by-fours and, with a little help, floated him down to the main road.
For more than an hour, Evelyn Turner waited along Rampart Street outside the French Quarter, her husband’s body resting on the grassy median as car after car passed, their wakes threatening to wash over the corpse.
“This is ridiculous,” Turner, 54, said as she sobbed into a dirty washcloth.
Bowie, 57, a truck driver who had been with Turner for 16 years, had advanced lung cancer and could not be easily moved. When Turner could find no one to take them out of the city, she decided to stay home and hope the storm would spare them.
“I’ve got electric and stuff right now,” Turner told herself. “I can keep going. I’ve got oxygen. I can keep going.”
But Hurricane Katrina left her neighborhood under several feet of water. By Tuesday, with no phone and only a small tank of oxygen left, Turner slogged out into the streets for help.
By the time she got back, Bowie was dead.
Grief-stricken, Turner walked two miles to a neighborhood police precinct and asked someone to come get the body. An officer told her a truck would be along.
When more than an hour passed, she started down the road again. When she got to the station this time, there were no more promises.
“There’s nothing we can do right now,” an officer said. “We don’t have any equipment.”
“So what I’m supposed to do? Sit with the body until you get somebody?” Turner asked.
“Unfortunately, yeah,” the officer replied. “That’s the only option I can give you. Because we have no way of getting to him.”
“Oh Lordy,” Turner said in despair.
Saving the survivors
With hundreds, if not thousands, of residents still stuck on roofs and in attics across the city, officials have concentrated on saving survivors of Katrina and floodwaters. “We’re not even dealing with dead bodies,” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Tuesday.
When Turner got back to the corpse, she collapsed onto the plywood sheets and wept.
Curtis Miller, a former city employee, helped float the body down the road, hoping a passing military truck would pick Bowie up. He was disgusted.
“I’m hurt to my heart with this,” the grizzled man said. “To see the city stoop this low. It shouldn’t be, mister. It should not be.”
Finally, about three hours after Bowie died, Miller flagged down a passing flatbed truck filled with downed limbs. After some heated words and an offer of $20, he persuaded the driver to take the body to Charity Hospital, where the police had directed them.
Turner helped load the body into the truck bed, then climbed aboard.
The truck turned and made its way into the French Quarter, where jazz bands are known to lead joyful funeral processions through the storied streets. But the streets were deserted Tuesday, and there was no music for Bowie but the whirring of helicopter blades above.