Natural Disasters

A Society of Volunteer Rescuers


More from Matt Taibbi's Katrina dispatch:

On our way into town, we come across a small group of shirtless civilians tinkering with a couple of beat-up motorboats. They have the look of fishermen getting ready for a long day's work….The boaters explain that they are ordinary city residents who have spent the last six consecutive days going out, pulling people out of their houses and bringing them to dry land. At first they are civil and friendly, but when we ask where the police and National Guard boats are, they suddenly take on the character of an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob.

"Ain't nobody helping these people except us," says Ryan Asmussen, a young man with a shaved head and a workingman's deep tan. "All these people are dying and nobody's helping us with them. We're out here all day long."

"They fly overhead," adds Tim Thomas, a slightly older man with a mustache. "But they're not out there on the boats. What they do is fly overhead in the helicopters, and when they see someone trapped, they hover. And then we've got to go fish 'em out."

"What about FEMA?" I ask.

The men erupt in snorts and derisive laughs. "If FEMA was here, people like us wouldn't be in a goddamn boat," Asmussen snaps. "They left it to us."

"It's a clusterfuck," says Thomas, shaking his head. "A total clusterfuck."…

[T]here is no question that the civilians have done the bulk of the boat-rescue work in the crucial first week after the storm. A kind of society of volunteer rescuers has formed organically in places like this section of Napoleon Avenue; they are all over the city, and all have similar stories of being forced into action by the sheer incompetence of the authorities.

It's a great piece. Read the whole thing.