Finally safe from the chaos, trio blasts slow official action
Mang was part of a loosely organized group that called itself a tribe.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
GIRARD -- "They just left us there to die," Jackie Mang said of the authorities who she says totally failed the people of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding, looting, danger and deprivation that followed it.
On Wednesday, three days removed from the chaos that was New Orleans, and the survival mentality they had developed, Mang and her boyfriend, Bryan Marchese, and their friend Jason Warwick sat in the calm and safety of her sister Beth McCartney's front porch in Girard, and talked about their experience.
Mang, Marchese and Warwick safely rode out the hurricane in Warwick's office in a building in downtown New Orleans. When the storm had passed, they gathered what belongings they could and walked through sometimes waist-deep water to their home on Loyola Street, which was on higher ground and not affected by the flood.
After seeing images of the Convention Center on a television powered by a generator, they thought they were safer at home than in a shelter.
"When search helicopters came, we would hide because we didn't want to go downtown and die," Mang said.
Critical of government response
Lashing out at local, state and federal government leaders, Marchese said officials had been talking about an evacuation plan for New Orleans for years. But when disaster struck, "there was no plan," he said.
"I promised people I would say this," Warwick said.
"The tsunami victims got help in 18 hours. It took five or six days to get help in New Orleans. We want to know why Americans were left to die," he said.
Once communications broke down, that was it, Marchese said.
"We didn't get water for four days," Mang said.
Personnel at a nearby naval base not only refused to come out and help people or let them in to take shelter, they kept them away at gunpoint and refused to even give them water, Mang said.
Marchese said there were roving bands of police who barricaded themselves in grocery and other stores and kept people away at gunpoint.
"They were protecting themselves, not us. The people they disarmed were citizens trying to protect themselves, not gangs," Warwick said.
They said authorities on radio broadcasts had told people to arm and protect themselves, and they did.
Formed a 'tribe'
During their ordeal, the three of them stayed together, but were part of a group of people in the neighborhood with whom their were acquainted or at least recognized, which they called a "tribe."
"We were armed. Outsiders were kept out of our area. We made sure we were always together," Mang said. They had bonfires at night for light, and roving packs of hungry dogs, dangerous and scary as they were, helped keep strangers away at night.
Tribe members helped themselves to food and water and medical supplies from stores that had been opened by owners or the police.
"We didn't look at it as looting. We called it hurricane shopping," Warwick said.
They said indiscriminate looting was everywhere. People were stealing appliances and anything they could get their hands on, much of which had nothing to do with survival. The most incongruous thing he saw, Marchese said, was women stealing items from a beauty supply store "when the whole world was falling down around them."
Marchese said order fell apart very quickly after communications broke down. As soon as the flooding occurred, the looting started, he said.
He said gangs stole cars and boats and weapons, which they used to loot homes and stores. He said there was apparently no one available to drive a fleet of buses ready to evacuate people, so the gang members stole them and were playing demolition derby running into cars and homes.
The gangs were better organized than the police or other authorities, Marchese said.
However, they said one gang member used a bus for the right reason. He collected a load of people and drove them to Houston.
When Mang and her group learned Saturday that authorities were going to forcibly evacuate people, they decided to try to get out on their own.
"We didn't know where they would take us, and I wouldn't leave my two cats, Jasmine and Lily. I couldn't deal with that," Mang said.
"We thought we were going to have to hot-wire a vehicle, but a friend had a pickup, so we siphoned some gasoline and escaped in the truck," she said.
On the way to Baton Rouge, La., before having cleaned up, they stopped at a buffet restaurant to eat, and discovered some of the conflicting feelings and reactions with which they are just starting to deal.
"It seemed strange to have hot food and such a variety of food," Marchese said.
They arrived in Baton Rouge early Sunday and stayed with a friend's family. It was the first time in a week they had a chance to completely clean up and get fresh clothing.
"I felt uncomfortable. I felt like I wanted to go back," Mang said.
Mang's mother, Liz Nelson of Austintown, provided them with plane tickets home. They arrived at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport about 11 p.m. Tuesday, where they were picked up by Mang's family.
"We're glad to be ... [living] with Mother, and it's nice to have family around," Mang said.
But they are independent people who want to get back on their feet.
They left New Orleans with no money and little more than the clothing on their backs. When possible, they plan to go back to New Orleans and see what of their belongings they can salvage.
But in the meantime, they need just about everything and anything people can need, including such major items as a car and clothing, employment and a place to live. Marchese was a chef in New Orleans.
Mang, whose father is John Mang of Austintown, is pregnant and plans to see a doctor as quickly as possible and make sure she and the baby are healthy. Mang's other sister, Laura Stamp, lives in Poland.
Effects of ordeal
By and large, they are physically OK. However, they suffered from the intense heat, heat rash that became infected, sunburn, fatigue and extreme stress.
Of their experience, Mang said: "People were in denial, and I'm still trying to get out of it. I'm pretending I'm on a forced vacation," she said.
"I tried twice to get on the 'Survivor' television show, but didn't make it. This was my time, I guess," Mang said with grim humor.
Anyone who wants to help Mang, Marchese and Warwick, who needs a plane ticket to Seattle, where his wife and two children await him, can send donations or job opportunities to the Hurricane for Mang Family Fund, P.O. Box 4103, Austintown 44515. They may also contact Mang's mother, Liz Nelson, at (330) 793-9155.