But FEMA has told us we cannot take the pets. They told that we could not take one cat or dog in our boats," Miller said. "It's a stupid rule. More people are going to die because of that."

Contact FEMA and demand that they change this rediculous rule which will only succeed in causing MORE DEATHS of both humans and non-humans alike. FEMA fax #1-800-827-8112

8 Sep 2005


Pet owners refusing to leave homes
Rescuers say efforts disorganized

NEW ORLEANS -- David Woodsum poked his head out the attic window of his flooded house on Gladiolus Street on Tuesday and yelled at the men sitting in the flat bottom boat.

"I'm not leaving," Woodsum said. "I won't leave my two cats."

Pets appeared to be the No. 1 reason many of the estimated 10,000 residents still holed up in their flooded homes are refusing to leave.

"I don't know why the government won't let us take these people's pets out," said Steve Miller of Dutchtown, a volunteer who navigated his flat bottom boat down the flooded streets trying to persuade residents to leave.

"But FEMA has told us we cannot take the pets. They told that we could not take one cat or dog in our boats," Miller said. "It's a stupid rule. More people are going to die because of that."

Miller was one of about 40 other men from the Baton Rouge area who for the past five days have been hauling boats to New Orleans daily to try and help with the rescue effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They were told Tuesday that search-and-rescue efforts would end in the next few days.

"Please come with us," Duke Ramey, one of the men in Miller's boat, yelled at Woodsum. "No one is going to bring you more food and water. The boats and helicopters aren't coming back. This could be your last chance to get out."

But Woodsum was steadfast.

"I'm not leaving my pets here to die," Woodsum yelled at the men in the boat.

"But if you don't come with us, you might die," Ramey said.

Woodsum was undeterred by the arguments. He refused to leave and Miller had no choice but to start the boat and move on.

"I just want to help," Miller said as his voice boomed out in the eerily empty, flooded streets.

"Search and Rescue," he yelled at no one. "If you want to leave your home, please come out."

Most of the people rescued Tuesday were men.

As the boats floated down the streets, bumping over elevated railroad tracks and bobbing grocery carts, Miller said his experience as a volunteer has been "100 percent frustrating."

"Everyone of these men have had enough of bureaucracy," Miller said. "And that's saying it nicely."

Miller said he answered a call from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals on Friday to bring his boat and join the search-and-rescue efforts in New Orleans.

"I called everybody I knew and so did a lot of other people," Miller said.

They were all told to bring their boats and meet at Jimmy Swaggart Ministries in Baton Rouge late Friday afternoon.

"We ended up with two miles worth of boats," said Leon Tarnto, one of the Baton Rouge area volunteers. "We had 92 boats and more than 200 men who volunteered."

And that's where the good news ended.

"This is one of the biggest fiascos I've ever seen," Tarnto said. "There were no leaders, nobody knew what to do or where to go. We ended up sitting on the sides of roads for hours."

Every day since they joined the effort, the men have met at one of Swaggart Ministries' buildings at 2 a.m.

"I thought we were going to get an early start," Tarnto said. "Instead we sit there for hours doing nothing, and then we sit on the side of the road in New Orleans doing nothing. These people have no idea what they're doing and that includes FEMA and DHH."

Each day, the number of Baton Rouge area boats and volunteers has dwindled until there were only 22 boats Tuesday.

"Why should they waste their time," Miller said. "We want to help, but these government people just don't get it. It's so frustrating."

Each day, the volunteers said they were turned away from the rescue effort for one reason or another.

"We went over to Chalmette one day where they desperately needed help, and we were turned away because some inmates escaped," Ramey said. "Who cares? Why should that stop us from going in there? That parish (St. Bernard) estimated there were 7,500 stranded in their homes. Nobody's been able to talk to them, and we get turned away."

Miller said that one day he became so angry he broke away from the FEMA sanctioned volunteers and, along with his brother, Mike Miller, searched Orleans Street.

"We hooked up with the military," Steve Miller said. "They're the only people that know what they're doing. We rescued about 25 people that day."

And Tuesday, the volunteers were angry because they were sent into an area that already had been searched.

"This has been the greatest waste of human resources I've ever seen," Ramey said.

"We've basically committed a mutiny," Tarnto said. "We've left DHH and we're working with the military."

With soldiers and paramedics in the boats, the Baton Rouge area volunteers continued scouring the flooded streets of northeast New Orleans.

"We're glad to see you," said Thomas Richardson who has been at his Verbena Street home since Katrina swept through the city.

"It's time to leave," Richardson said. "I have to say, I thought we were better off at home than at one of those shelters."

Richardson and his brother, Gary Richardson, decided to leave once their pets, including dogs, cats and a bird, were rescued.

"Some volunteer group showed up this morning and said they would take our pets," Richardson said.

After the Richardsons were dropped off safely, Miller took his boat out again.

The boat slipped past a skinny, brown-haired dog trapped on the flooded roof of a small building. The thirsty dog lapped the polluted flood waters.

"That dog won't live long," Ramey said, watching it drink.

As Miller yelled for residents to come out, sometimes the only answer from the vacant homes was the yelp of a dog that had been left behind.

"Man, this is sad," Miller said.

As the men turned down Clover Street, Robert Jones sat on the front porch of his flooded home.

"I'm not leaving," Jones said. "I'm doing just fine."

Two dogs played on the porch.

"There's no way I'm leaving my dogs," Jones said. "Thanks for stopping, but I'm not leaving."