Is Living Paycheck to Paycheck a Crime Punishable by Death in Floodwater?

The most resourceful woman in America, Mable Brown, saves herself and 18 family members. This is their escape story.

BY: Lisa Earle McLeod

 
"It's their own fault, really. Why didn't those people just evacuate when they had the chance?" I overheard one woman saying to another in the line at the grocery store. I shielded my face with a box of frozen waffles and pretended to read the National Enquirer while I eavesdropped some more.

She, like many, was convinced that what we're seeing on the 6 o'clock news is merely Darwinism in action. And the unfit are not surviving.

Unfit people, like single mom Mable Brown.

Mable wanted to leave but couldn't get gas for her aging car, since all the stations were closed. A New Orleans newcomer who just moved there from Atlanta, Mabel's instincts told her to take the $20 dollars she had in cash and get out. But her sisters had lived in New Orleans for years. And they told her hurricanes were scary but if they had candles they would be okay.

But then the water started rising. Mable checked every 20 minutes and counted how many of the outside steps were covered up. When the water was up to the 7th step, she knew they were in trouble. But it was dark, and they couldn't leave their apartment and walk through the water in the pitch-black city.

"We knew there were alligators and snakes in the water because we were next to the Bayou, so we were afraid to get in the water in the dark, we couldn't have seen where we were going."

So she and her sister went onto the porch and started fires with their furniture trying to flag down helicopters to rescue them and their six kids.

The next morning the water was up to step 14, Mable told the kids "Get up, put on long sleeve pants and shirts, put on some shoes, and we're going to walk through the water."

At 5'6'' the water was up to Mable's chin. Her two daughters age 8 and 13 could swim so she dragged them along beside her.

Her sister and her niece couldn't swim and they were too short to keep their heads above, so Mable got her sister's two older boys to put them on their backs. In water up to their necks, Mable told the group to feel for the sidewalk with their feet so they could keep their footing.

They made their way through the oozing trash filled muck for over two miles to get the still day bridge overlooking the Super Dome. They waited for five hours, watching bodies float by, trying desperately to get one of the police cars or buses to take them out of the city.

"We saw the buses, but they wouldn't let people on. One guy opened his door and we thought we were going to get on, but they went to take all the prisoners out of the jails."

She decided to leave on her own, "I'm seeing bodies tied to the pole so I said, if I have to walk all the way to Baton Rouge that was my plan." But then the water started rising on the other side of the bridge.

Mable asked policeman after policeman what to do "But everybody told us something different. I kept seeing buses going toward the Super Dome, so I realized that was where I better go."

As the crowd around them on the bridge got wilder and wilder, Mable gave up her spot on dry concrete, grabbed her sister, the six kids, and waded back down into knee high muck to get inside the Dome with the hopes that one of the buses would get her family to safety.

Mable and the crew entered the Dome and found utter mayhem. With buses sitting right outside, the crowd grew crazier by the minute. Everyone was panicking that the other levee near the Dome was going to break and they would all be washed away. Bedlam broke out, guns were being fired inside the dome, there were no lights in the rest room.

"People were losing their kids, crazy men were snatching kids bringing them in the bathroom and raping them." A woman told Mable a 2-year-old had died from rape. Mabel kept her two daughters beside her.

"We were stuck together like glue."

Continued on page 2: After 24 hours in hell, Mable and her kids were loaded like cattle on buses... »

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