Elderly survivor's story "incredible"
NEW ORLEANS — The 76-year-old man sat trapped and alone in his attic for more than two weeks, sipping from a dwindling supply of water until it ran out. No food. No way out of a house ringed by foul floodwaters.
Gerald Martin lived out one of the most remarkable survival stories of Hurricane Katrina. Rescuers who found him Friday, as they searched his neighborhood by boat, were astounded at his good spirits and resiliency after 18 days without food or human contact.
"It's an incredible story of survival," said Louie Fernandez, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) unit that carried out the rescue.
The search-and-rescue boat navigating through the 8th Ward didn't expect to find anyone alive in the one-story wood house at 6010 Painters St., but they heard a voice as the motor idled and the boat glided forward.
"Hey, over here."
A rescuer broke down the front door and went inside with another team member, struggling through a living room jumbled with overturned, sodden furniture.
They found Martin sitting in a chair in the sludge-covered kitchen, partially undressed in an effort to stay cool. After 16 days in his attic, he had descended to the ground floor two days earlier when floodwaters — once up to the ceiling — drained.
Incredibly, Martin — who ran out of his gallon-and-a-half water supply Thursday — was able to walk out of the house with little assistance.
"He was weak, very tired, but he was able to speak, able to stand," Fernandez said. "He was very relieved. He was very thirsty. He was in good spirits."
Martin was given water to drink, then taken to Ochsner Foundation Hospital, where nurse Jinny Resor said he was treated for dehydration. She said Martin had taken medication while he was trapped, but she wasn't sure what it was for.
In a brief interview late Friday, Martin said he was feeling fine.
"So far, so good," he said.
One of his rescuers, J.D. Madden of Santa Clara, Calif., said Martin's family left before the storm, but he stayed to attend church, later took a nap and woke up to find that his home was filling with water.
Martin only had time to grab some water and climb to his attic, which he described as feeling like an oven during days of 90-degree heat that followed the storm. Madden said the heat in the attic might have been even worse, perhaps fatal, except for shade provided by a fallen tree.
Staff Sgt. Jason Randor, a military-police officer with the Massachusetts National Guard, watched the rescue from another boat that was helping provide security for the search team. He recalled jubilant yells from the firefighters when they realized someone alive was inside.
Martin emerged, wearing jeans and a shirt.
"While they were putting him in the chopper, he asked if they could stop on the way at Taco Bell to get something to eat," Randor said.
Fernandez, of FEMA, was on scene when Martin arrived at a FEMA base camp before going to the hospital.
"He had lost a lot of weight," Fernandez said. "He definitely had to hold his pants up with his hands."
Martin was the first trapped person found alive by Madden's California Task Force Three team in its 12 days of searching.
President Bush, after facing sharp criticism for the federal response to the storm, vowed in his Saturday radio address to begin "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen."
Bush reiterated promises he made in a televised address in front of St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter on Thursday, including plans to create a Gulf Opportunity Zone that would offer "tax relief and other incentives for job-creating investment," and a "new urban homesteading act, which would identify property in the region owned by the federal government, and provide lots to low-income citizens free of charge, through a lottery. In return, they would pledge to build on the lot with a mortgage or help from a charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity."
"As we rebuild homes and businesses," he said, "we will renew our promise to be the land of equality and decency. And one day Americans will look back at the response to Hurricane Katrina and say that our country grew not only in prosperity, but also in character and justice."
In Cambridge, Mass., meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., urged fellow Democrats yesterday not to automatically view Bush's proposals with a cynical eye, but said: "It is absolutely imperative that we call him on his bluff."
"In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, I think it's important that we don't just assume that George Bush is lying when he says he's finally been awakened to the fact that there is poverty and racism in our midst," Obama said. "It's tempting to do so, especially when he decides to put Karl Rove in charge of reconstruction."
Rove, the top political adviser to the president, will play a role through his position as deputy White House chief of staff, but he has not been tapped to supervise the rebuilding.
Guard troops sign up
for FEMA benefits
CARVILLE, La. — National Guard troops normally stationed in New Orleans lined up yesterday to register for FEMA benefits, knowing that they probably don't have a home to return to when their current hitch is up.
FEMA sent several computer-carrying contract employees to the Gillis W. Long Center, home to a large National Guard presence, to sign up soldiers who were moved after working in New Orleans. Like others applying for assistance, they are seeking $2,000 cash payments and housing assistance for their families.
Janelle Coates, one of the FEMA representatives, said the team expected to sign up 200 Guardsmen yesterday and would return if needed. She said the soldiers are filling out the same form FEMA workers are using at shelters, the one available via the Internet at www.FEMA.org or the toll-free line (800-621-FEMA), where "redial is your friend" because the number is so busy.
Casualties: The Hurricane Katrina death toll yesterday was unchanged at 816, including 579 in Louisiana.
Help from Jacko: Pop star Michael Jackson said yesterday that he's moving ahead with plans to record a song to benefit hurricane victims. The tentative title: "From the Bottom of My Heart."
Compiled from The Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune and Gannett News Service.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company