Eight-foot high bush saves 14 police staff

Stories of misery and anarchy are plentiful in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Reports in which one group casts blame on another are plentiful, too.

But, as always in the aftermath of a natural disaster, there are also some “good news” stories. Here’s one from today’s Globe and Mail:

Spindly bush saves 14 police staffers

by Cain Burdeau
Associated Press
Waveland, Mississippi — For five hours, 14 members of Waveland’s police department held on desperately to a spindly bush as they watched the town they swore to protect being torn apart by hurricane Katrina.

Debris shot past them, tin roofs fired up into the air and a shrimp boat swept past in churning seawaters as they clung to the 2.5-metre-tall bush. Blasted by a storm surge some say was nine metres high Monday morning, this town got some of the worst of Katrina.

Three days later, the anemic-looking, red-tipped bush in front of the police department has become a shrine to Waveland’s men and women in blue. There’s now a hand-carved wooden cross placed in the bush to highlight its role in a remarkable story of survival — a sign of hope as police go about the grim duty of recovering bodies and trying to help shocked survivors in the town of 7,000 about 55 kilometres east of New Orleans.

“You can see where there’s no bark,” said Lisa Parker, the chief’s secretary. “That’s where we were holding onto it.”

Added patrolman Todd Blake: “The death-grip hold.”

When water rose through the police station, about a mile from the beach, those inside punched through a window that had been covered by plywood and climbed outside. There they found water pouring through their parking lot.

They then formed a human chain through the swirling waters and howling winds with the plan to reach higher ground on a highway median in front of the station. But the sea surge was too strong, and broke up their chain.

While 14 of the officers, dispatchers and other personnel held onto the bush, the rest were being swept away until they were able to grab onto the station and climb up to the roof or onto trucks where they waited for the water to recede.

“There was a family with two children that was trapped in the waters,” patrolman John Saltarelli said. “And we couldn’t help them.”

But the family was able to cling to a tall motel sign and walked away when the waters receded.

Then, the officers found their cruisers waterlogged, their communications dead, their guns soaked. Their station was a mess of dangling wires, mud and darkness.

“The best description I have is that it was tsunami-like,” patrolman Saltarelli said.

Police recovered at least five bodies Wednesday. Authorities would not confirm a death toll, but Mayor Tommy Longo told a newspaper that at least 50 residents died.

All 26 members of the police department survived Katrina. Police are already making plans to transplant the bush for a permanent memorial when a new station is built.

For Waveland’s peacekeepers, there is a feeling of great gratitude amid the devastation.

They recount that a few months ago, an officer accidentally plowed into the bush with his car, but the bush bounced back. And, they said, the chief had been talking about chopping the bush down because it was ugly and obscured the view of the highway.

But he never got around to it.

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Sep 02, 2005 @ 11:10:00

    Only time a Bush ever did anything nice for a public employee.

    Sorry that was just too tempting.

    Reply

  2. Anonymous
    Sep 02, 2005 @ 11:19:00

    Spindly Bush? No bark? Sounds like those quotes could all have been in another story…

    It’s me, B2, by the way — but can’t get this comment window to allow me to log in, for some reason.

    Reply

  3. Q
    Sep 02, 2005 @ 11:44:00

    I have to admit, the pun was in my mind, too. But unlike you, I managed to fight off the temptation. (I’m so virtuous — ask anyone.)
    Q

    Reply

  4. Jack's Shack
    Sep 02, 2005 @ 14:54:00

    And the Bush was not consumed.

    Reply

  5. Anonymous
    Sep 02, 2005 @ 16:03:00

    Jack – Give it time this might consume the Bush. 🙂

    Reply

  6. Mary P.
    Sep 02, 2005 @ 16:48:00

    Yup. Mr. Virtue, that’s you. No, really, I mean it! Why are you laughing like that?

    Jack – I think that was fire, not flood, but I guess the principle holds!

    Reply

  7. 49erDweet
    Sep 04, 2005 @ 01:56:00

    I, too, am unhappy with GWB for many reasons – some connected to this event, but in interests of fairness it must be acknowledged is not entirely appropriate to hold him responsible for the historical and systematic ineptness of local and state administrations when US law places upon THEM, and not the feds, the responsibility for performing every manner of disaster planning and response. The fed support was in place and available. But the local effort was ill-planned, belatedly put into action and obviously insufficient. The inexperience of elected leadership was starkly visible.

    Where GWB erred, IMHO, is in not speaking out soon enough once the local failures became so obvious. And since we can’t know now what was going on behind the scenes, it it probably a 20/20 hindsight issue, more than anything else.

    In a major event such as this, we’ve never before had one third of an intact Police Department simply “evaporate” by walking – or wading – away.

    A region which has historically bragged of their disdain for ‘honest’ governance, time-and-again choosing rascals overs statemen as their leaders, can not be totally surprised when their leadership – and the work output they perform – are less than sufficient to their needs.

    The extreme human disaster, which will be long-lasting, might eventually pale once we begin considering the catastrophic failure of the US congress and administrations over the past half century – or longer – to recognize and do what was needed to appropriately safeguard the two major critically needed shipping ports we have now lost at the mouth of the Mississippi. Part of that activity would also include preserving a support community to house the experienced workers (and their families) needed to effect the tasks of the critical transportation hubs so necessary for transacting and exchanging so much of the region’s commerce.

    Only now are many beginning to catch a glimpse the true scope of this calamity.

    Reply

  8. Your Brother
    Sep 07, 2005 @ 12:32:00

    Like a sinking ship with incompetant crewmen, unfortunately this whole thing will be remembered for how people argued over the depth of the waters as the size of the whole was growing.

    I would suspect that whoever was at the healm, the city would have still sunk. Remember, these levees were judged inadequate and improvement began in 1966. This means that both Democrats, Republicans and many municipal and state governments have come and gone without fixing the problem.

    Reply

  9. Q
    Sep 07, 2005 @ 12:53:00

    I read (somewhere) that the current federal administration cut the New Orleans budget by 80%.

    Other administrations have refused to address the problem, too … so then it becomes a question of proportioning blame, not laying 100% of the blame on any one party.

    This, too, is democracy in action. Everyone knew that such a hurricane would come some day, but it was never a priority in the current budget.
    Q–>

    Reply

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