On Rue Dauphin, the fall and rise of law and order
NEW ORLEANS — It wasn't exactly the cavalry that finally arrived. But for stranded French Quarter resident Joe Campiere, it was close enough.
After seven lawless days following hurricane Katrina's punch to the nation's Gulf Coast, a time when exclusive Rue Dauphin in the French Quarter turned into an outlaw camp, Mr. Campiere called 911 - and finally got through.
Soon after, three Texas lawmen rode by on horseback to inspect a reported break-in, a sight that couldn't have been more welcome to Campiere, and one that signified the sudden, and perhaps belated, return of order to the Big Easy.
"I tell you, I've been terrified," he says, packing a holstered gun. "I'm actually not a tough guy."
Days after officials said they had "turned the corner" in New Orleans, the Texas lawmen were the first Campiere had seen, even in this high-end corner of Louisiana's grande dame area. But they were not the last. Throughout the day, the city saw a second inundation: a steady stream of federal agents and troops from the 82nd Airborne rolled down Rue Dauphin, and soldiers and police from all over the country commenced block-by-block patrols.
As a crescent moon rose over the Crescent City Monday, New Orleans almost changed overnight from a lawless city to an occupied one, where police from New York City and Charleston, S.C., patrolled past broken-down and looted New Orleans police cruisers, and law officers outnumbered the remaining residents by 10 to 1.
It was clear that the rescue operation had taken precedence, but as more evacuees left their beloved city behind, the nature of the operation changed from the search for survivors to the first baby steps toward a return to normalcy for a darkened city.
"The greatness of our country is that we rebuild after tragedy, and we're here to make sure that can now start to happen," says Sgt. Leo Boeche, a member of a San Diego National Guard contingent that secured a section of Magazine Street on Monday.
Along Magazine Street, National Guardsmen picked through an already looted hardware store for supplies, after arriving in town "with only our backpacks," says Capt. Robert Atkinson. But even the requisitioning of goods from a private store by the Army is a sign of the change in the city, he says, noting the operation is inventoried and a check will be cut to the owner. "You're not going to see our soldiers coming out with big-screen TVs on their shoulders," Captain Atkinson says.
Spreading out into the city's densely vegetated and historic neighborhoods - from the Irish Channel to the Garden District, from the 9th Ward to the 17th, some underwater, some dry - perhaps as many as 20,000 law-enforcement officials patrolled the city by foot, van, boat, and horse. It was a far cry from just a few days earlier, when embattled and weary New Orleans police officers failed to control their city, often letting looters go, and becoming victims themselves, as communications systems failed and the command structure appeared to crumble.
Over the weekend, two New Orleans emergency officials committed suicide and a significant number turned in their resignations. So citizens who had weathered the storm had to weather a wave of looting and gunplay that hampered rescue efforts and put a further pall on an already unprecedented evacuation of a major American city.
But, under the command of Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, described by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin as a "John Wayne dude," New Orleans has now quickly become a city occupied by strangers, most of whom had no idea how to navigate the confusing geography. But they are learning fast.
If it was overkill, it was overdue, says air-conditioner repairman Patrick McCarthy.
On Magazine Street, in the Irish Channel part of town, Mr. McCarthy patrolled his street with a shopping cart full of hardware supplies, hammering shop doors shut. "I've got the wrong nails for the wrong job," he complained as he shuttered an open shop.
As he waited for backup, McCarthy chased away younger looters, but had to stand back when older ones, many armed, came through. They wrecked antiques stores and convenience stores, not just taking, but breaking.
"There are more people without a conscience than you like to think about," he says.
Only a moment after saying he had yet to see whether law-enforcement officials had taken control of the city, six black SUVs careened up the street, and a dozen stern FBI agents descended on three men on bicycles, securing the corner like a patrol in Baghdad. (The men were quickly let go, after one insisted, "I'm an accountant, not a looter!")
"OK, it seems they've arrived," McCarthy said.
In downtown New Orleans, at the LeDale Hotel, several men sat on the stoop, one of them making aluminum-can airplanes to sell at $5 a piece to the only tourists in town: cops and journalists.
With the absence of police, Vernell Lockett, a burly preacher, became the area's leader as he confronted looters and safeguarded the eight elderly men inside the hotel.
"When you're happy and peaceful, you're OK," he says. "But I am glad the police are here to ship these [looters] to the zoo."
New Orleansians had persevered, even as their city fell to unbound forces, says Erik Larsen, an official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and commander of the airlift.
"I'm amazed there weren't more sick and injured considering what hit this city," Dr. Larsen says.
Since last Monday, Campiere has sat up, gun by his side, listening to gunshots popping on his street, and the yelps and hollers of looters, all the while praying they would leave him and his wife, Lorri, alone.
But he says the patrols will have to keep up before he puts his gun aside and, for the first time since Katrina struck, tries to sleep through the night.