Katrina Archival & Historical Record Team (KART)
BMCS Noyes was part on the nine-vessel flotilla that entered New Orleans on August 30. He rode in on the 55119. Noyes encountered an eerie sight: an entire city in absolute darkness. That evening, Noyes’ 55119 crew and a crew from a 41-footer climbed up the canal street ferry landing and walked to Harrahs, where the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) had set up their command post. They let the NOPD know that they were in New Orleans and to report that there were people in the nearby Hilton Hotel flashing lights from windows. Noyes was concerned that they needed help. The NOPD said that these people were fine. The NOPD had everything except communications and they were isolated by the floodwaters. About 1:30 am, the Navy asked the Coast Guard to help rescue people from the east bank. They had to wait for the Navy to receive permission before they could start evacuating people. Soon after, Black Hawk helicopters arrived with Marines. They began to move people to the west bank. They rescued 120 people early that morning. However, they awoke to complaints that the Coast Guard had dumped the evacuees off on the west bank and left them there. The Coast Guard later cleared this up. By Wednesday morning, many of the ferries had arrived. Two 55s and seven 41s went over to the Chalmette ferry landing. It became too difficult to remove the evacuees with their boats, so they used a floating dock and the ferries to evacuate larger numbers at once. They also used a tugboat and a barge to evacuate people, while the 41s provided safety escorts. Many of the evacuees were barefoot and had cuts and scrapes; others were in need of insulin. They tried to keep families together but as soon as the Coast Guard made that announcement, “everybody became somebody else’s family.” Noyes said that the people of St. Bernard’s parish are “a hardy stock” and would not be causing trouble. Some evacuees were being pushed in office chairs. Another woman donated her wheelchair to others after she was rescued. After the first day in Chalmette they had to pull boat crews to perform security duties. For Noyes, the biggest challenge was keeping the crews focused.
Q: Alright, could you please state your first name, your last name and spell your last name out.
BMCS Noyes: It’s Steven Noyes; N-O-Y-E-S.
Q: Okay, and your rate is?
BMCS Noyes: BMCS.
Q: Okay. How long have you been in the Coast Guard?
BMCS Noyes: Twenty-five-and-a-half years.
Q: Okay. Can you briefly tell us your career path that led to you being stationed here at Dulac?
BMCS Noyes: I started out on the Coast Guard cutter Yocona in 1980 in Astoria, Oregon. I went to QM “A” School from there and from there as a third class a SAR controller at Group New Orleans. I then went down to the Coast Guard cutter White Holly where I started my ATON career in 1981. From the White Holly I went to the Pamlico 20 feet up the pier, did three years on the Pamlico, a construction tender, then went to the Coast Guard cutter Port Harris in Honolulu Hawaii; two years there. I then established the QM billet at Air Station Clearwater and then successfully completed that tour and then went back to Hawaii as a second class - I stayed third class for a long time – but as a second class at the D14 OAN staff. And from there I made first class and went to the Coast Guard cutter White Pine in Mobile Alabama. I decommissioned the White Pine after four years, turned it over to the Dominican Republic and commissioned the Coast Guard cutter Barbara Mabrity and brought it back to Mobile from Wisconsin. I made Chief off of it and then back to Group New Orleans as the Command Center Supervisor, and then the great merger happened and I became a Boatswain’s Mate and took over the RFO job as the Readiness Division Chief at Group New Orleans. I made Senior Chief there. I sat through the Officer-in-Charge of Review board. I got my ANT Afloat Certification. This job came open and they needed somebody with a certification to fill it so I was offered this opportunity and became the first ex-quartermaster to receive a shore ATON command in the Coast Guard.
Q: Alright. Now just prior to Katrina blowing into the Gulf area, what were you doing; what kind of preparations were you doing here at Dulac?
BMCS Noyes: Well we had just finished responding to Tropical Storm Cindy, which after Cindy we spent three and a half straight days, 18 hour days, working to restore the aids to navigation in Cat Island Pass and Bell Pass which goes into Fourchon, which is one of the major oil ports, you know supply boat ports coming out of the Gulf. And then Hurricane Dennis came along and we evaded once again and we were starting to clean up after Hurricane Dennis, which really didn’t affect us because it was farther off to the east. And the Thursday before Katrina crossed the peninsula of Florida we had just come back from a run down in Cat Island Pass and I walked back into my office and I sat down and I turned on the weather channel, and I just had a feeling, “That one was in the same place Andrew was”. So I came out and I told the guys, “Okay, by about next weekend we’re going to have us a hurricane.” So we started making preparations; looking at evacuation points and boxing up our supplies and stuff like that. We took some time off because we knew that it was going to be a long row to hoe after that and then we waited for stuff to happen.
Q: Okay. Now where did you end up evacuating to?
BMCS Noyes: We took a three-prong approach to our evacuation. Myself and a BM3, an MK1 and a fireman evaded to Baton Rouge with the rest of the Coast Guard assets I left a BM3 and an MK3 behind to ferry the skiff; our 18-foot skiff up to Baton Rouge so we’d have a government vehicle available to us, and then a BM1 and a Fireman were left here at the unit at Houma; at her house in Houma, to man the TANB; the 21-foot boat, in case there was a response needed here on the backside of the storm or in case the storm came this way. So the 55 was with the boat flotilla, the 18 was also with us, and then the TANB and the other government vehicle were here.
Q: Now you ended up being a part of the flotilla that went over there.
BMCS Noyes: Yes.
Q: Can you tell us what happened with that; what were the events?
BMCS Noyes: Well we were the last vessel to make it through the railroad bridge in Morgan City on Sunday before the storm, as we were evading. We left here and then went to Houma to try to take fuel just to top off and there would have been a three-hour wait in Houma. We ended up taking fuel in Morgan City and heading up to Morgan City/Port Allen; the alternate route into the Mississippi river at Port Allen Baton Rouge where we caught up with . . . we got out into the river about the same time that the Pamlico, the Clamp, the other two 55-footers in Group New Orleans’ AOR; the 55108 and the 55114, and the eight 41-footers; seven operational and one dead boat, were arriving at Baton Rouge. So we went down and everybody topped off with fuel at Stone Fuel there and we went on up to a place right above the Highway 190 bridge close to Southern University up there called The Baton Rouge Harbors; also known as Devil’s Swamp. It’s an evasion place that we had spotted while doing RFOs on MSU Baton Rouge at the Group level and it had been used in the past. You know 20 years ago when I was here it was used but then it had gone out and now it was coming back.
Anyway, so just after dark the Clamp went in first and spudded down and some of the 41s came alongside the
Clamp. And then the Pamlico came in and spudded down - they were nose to nose - and then everybody else filled in around them and we sat there and we tracked the progress of the storm and immediately started brainstorming. In between, CWO Dave Lewald; the CO of the
Pamlico, BMC Brad Vandiver of ANT Venice, myself and BM1 Gonzales from ANT Gulfport, we started talking about who was going to take care of who and how we were going to divvy things up. Then we started looking at our logistics and our logistical needs and planned a store run and all that stuff with our government vehicle the next day whenever we went back down the river, and that was Sunday night. And then Monday we sat there trying to get reports and information, and the fear has always been you don’t want to travel the river right after a storm because of debris, so we waited until Tuesday. And once we got a clearer picture of the damage and what area was effected and what areas weren’t effected, then we got underway first thing Tuesday morning and headed on down the river with the
Pamlico in the lead and the rest of the boats behind them. We; the 55119, took the cooks to the store in our government vehicle and we loaded up, and while everybody was going eight knots down the river we stayed in Baton Rouge and took on stores and loaded down heavy and just ran just as fast as we could to catch up with them. We caught up with them just above New Orleans where the evidence of the storm was, you know the ships were already grounded and barges were already sunk and trees and everything were everywhere. There wasn’t that much debris in the river but along the levee the trees were all messed up and the ships were pushed all over the place. We offloaded our stores that we had onto the
Pamlico - while we were underway we did a little unrep - and then fell in the back of the flotilla and controlled things from there.
Q: Okay, so once you got to New Orleans what were you tasked to do?
BMCS Noyes: When we first arrived in New Orleans we came up under the Crescent City Connection and there was complete darkness, you know, and I’ve been in this area for a long time and that was kind of eerie to see total darkness. But the 55108 had forged ahead and were looking to see the status of the West Bank Navy Base and suitable moorings there. As we came around Algiers Point with the Pamlico and the Clamp in the lead, one of the 41s from Station New Orleans saw some people flashing lights at them from the Hilton Hotel and they reported that on the radio, and they got all, you know they had been sitting around for days and they were ready to go; they were ready to go over there and rescue people. And so Mr. Lewald asked me to go over and see what was going. So the 55119 and the 41-footer; the 41475 I think it was, from New Orleans, we went over there and myself and two armed personnel from the 41 climbed up the Canal Street ferry landing and walked into Harrah’s where the NOPD had their command post set up and, you know, let them know that the Coast Guard was in on the river now and that we’re in town. And at that time the NOPD, they had ice, they had water, they had food. They had everything except communications so they were basically isolated. Those police officers at the end of Canal Street were totally isolated from the rest of the city and there was floodwaters blocking them off to the north. And they said that the people in the hotel were fine. They had checked on them the day before. They just were trying to signal for somebody to bring them food and water.
So we went back to the boat and I made the report to the Pamlico and went on down around to the West Bank Navy Base where the Navy asked us, through the Pamlico, to help evacuate people from the East Bank. They were massing around the East Bank Navy Base. And so of course we said “Yes”. So at around 11/1130 at night; Tuesday night, the 55119 and four 41-footers were holding off in the middle of the river waiting for permission. The Navy made this request and then they told us that we had to wait because they had to get permission to do it and it had to go up to some General and come back, and the next thing you know a Blackhawk lands and Marines hop out and there’s security on the East Bank. They brought these people that had already lost their homes to floodwaters and were massing up at the gate. They brought them in, you know 10/12 at a time and we took them across to the West Bank Navy Base where they were ushered up onto a floating barge, upper ramp, onto the levee, out the gate and the gate was closed behind them. Thank you very much. That was it. So we did 120 people like that and then we secured for the night because that was the whole crowd that had amassed over on the East Bank.
So the next morning we wake up to complaints from the locals that the Coast Guard had just dumped people on the levee on the West Bank because people asked them, “How did you get here?” “Well the Coast Guard brought us over.”
Q: So where did they complain to; did they call the CO?
BMCS Noyes: Well they called the Navy base and they called us on the radio because one of the barge fleets is right up there and we explained to them what had happened and they understood. By that time the Navy had really gone into a siege mentality on the West Bank. And days later, walking around and driving around the West Bank Navy Base I could probably see why they went into a siege mentality because that place was pretty messed up. They had lost a lot of buildings and trees and stuff like that and they didn’t know how long this was going to last, and they knew what their supplies were and they weren’t sharing. They were holding onto it because they didn’t know how long it would be.
Wednesday morning we got up and went down to . . .and there was always a plan-a-foot that ferries - and we heard that the ferries were in town - two ferries from Baton Rouge were down there; the Falesiana [phonetic] and the other one I forget the name of now. And one of the ferry captains; Tammy Bruce – the guy’s named Tammy, go figure - we went down to the Chalmette ferry landing to see what was going on down in St. Bernard because we heard of the flooding in Chalmette and St. Bernard. We went down there and I jumped off the boat and I walked up the ferry landing to try to make contact with locals, and I found the security guard from the Tenneco refinery and I found fire department personnel from St. Bernard and then they hooked me up with the Sheriff over the radio. And the plan always was; what they were told at Chalmette High School, which was a shelter that had been damaged by floodwater and by the storm, was, “Go to the ferry landing or go to Chalmette Slip. There’s a warehouse at Chalmette Slip which is about a mile up the river from the ferry landing.” So people started trickling into the ferry landing and with the seven 41-footers and the three 55-footers we started evacuating people out of the ferry landing, and the plan was to hop, skip and jump up to Chalmette Slip and then on up to Algiers Point as soon as ground transportation could be arranged up there. Well with the small boats and the way the quay wall was in the Chalmette Slip we couldn’t get them off the boat and up there, so right below that is a floating dock that the city of Chalmette and St. Bernard Port Commission has for the excursion boats that come down for the Chalmette National Battlefield. So we started using that and of course we got their permission and we cut some locks and that was a back door into this warehouse where there were thousands of people already. So we started dropping people off there and then the ferries would come and take about 150 at a pop. And they went out and commandeered a tugboat and a deck barge; the tugboat Bear I think it was, and then we started moving people in mass like that. And then the 41s got away from the personnel evacuation to more of a safety escort. Also across the river there were two ferries that were up on the levee over there and with Captain Bruce’s permission we went over there and got all the life jackets off of those. So after I had gone up on the ferry landing – and I got stuck on the ferry landing coordinating stuff - so my BM2 was running the boat back and forth and around and I had a handheld radio and I was standing up there, and ended up directing the vessel movements and the people movements and was there for a good five, six, seven hours. That was one of the days that we lost, we kind of lost that day.
Q: Did you have many people that had medical issues?
BMCS Noyes: The biggest thing was people that left home without their insulin. Everyone was barefoot just about. There were minor cuts and scrapes, heat exhaustion because it was hot and there was no shade, so we did the best we could with the supplies that we had on 41s and the 55s. We gave them as much water as we had and we found some candy for the diabetics the best we could. There were some medical personnel among the evacuee’s that helped with whoever. We tried to keep the families together as best we could but of course as soon as I said - standing up on the ferry landing - as soon as I yelled out that the families stay together everybody became everybody else’s cousin . . .
BMCS Noyes: . . . so you know you had to use a little judgment on that.
Q: Well with all the tension going on did you have any problems with people boiling over and the hostility?
BMCS Noyes: No, the people in St. Bernard are a hardy stock and they wouldn’t be the ones to shoot at you. They wouldn’t be the ones to . . . they just wanted to get evacuated. Of course there are thugs in every crowd, alright, and there was a couple guys; young punks, that were cutting in line and were trying to get ahead of people and I pretty much shut a couple of them down. There was this one kid, he had tattoos all over him, and he walked right by an elderly gentlemen trying to carry a big plastic box with some belongings in it, and just walked right by him. And so by then I was a little pissed so I yelled at the guy to help out your neighbor and he just looked at me like I had something growing out of my forehead. So I yelled at him again and I stopped the entire evacuation process and I just unloaded on this guy, and he finely picked up the guy’s box and helped him get on the barge and as soon as he stepped on the ferry he dropped it. I would have liked to have taken care of him.
Q: Well where there any moments, acts of kindness, that stand out in your mind; I mean there are tons of them but one in particular?
BMCS Noyes: We had elderly ladies, people were coming up in office chairs; being pushed around in office chairs because they didn’t have wheelchairs. One lady had a wheelchair and when she got on the ferry she donated her wheelchair to stay there at the ferry landing and we used it, and stuff like that. But yes, if one person was carrying a heavy load there were several people that would help them out if they didn’t have anything of their own. So yes, there was.
Q: And what would you say were the greatest risks in this kind of operation that you just went through; was it dealing with the people or the air operations that were going on - I mean particularly for you - but is there anything that stands out as something that was kind of hairy?
BMCS Noyes: Hairy on the river as in operations?
BMCS Noyes: You know we operated at night and there was no traffic control but then there wasn’t that much traffic, and we were familiar with the river and so that wasn’t a problem. When the Navy showed up it got a little more dangerous because they’re pretty much cowboys driving their little small boats waking the crap out of everybody and zooming around at 900 miles an hour.
There were some places where we went because we were comfortable that we probably shouldn’t have gone without body armor and without weapons of our own. After that first day in Chalmette and when the machine became a little better organized and it was obvious that the boat crews could be better utilized, we had to pull - because the MSST hadn’t shown up yet and we didn’t have National Guard - we had to pull boat crews to be security at the ferry landings but then we had the ferries and the barge to handle people transfers. So you know you had a lot of boats rafted up outside of other boats and people would wake by and there was enough, “You waked me, I waked you” complaints going around all over the place. But as far as safety, I walked up the Harrah’s on two separate occasions in the span of three days and the difference of the condition of downtown New Orleans in the span of those three days was just phenomenal. We carried the Caleasieu Parish Sheriffs Department; picked them up at the River Walk and took them down - there were 60 of them - and it took all three 55-footers. We carried them down to Chalmette for security down there and that was . . . they’re walking down the River Walk trying to find a place to get on the boat and the looter’s on the River Walk were coming out and seeing these 60 police officers with their long guns and everything and just loaded for bear, and they’d turn around and run, so that was kind of funny. But we heard on the TV that the Pope was praying for us and that the Navy was coming and so we knew everything was going to be alright.
Q: Well what were the most challenging aspects of your mission?
BMCS Noyes: Keeping the young men and women down there focused.
Q: Are you talking about the crew members or are you talking about the people you were evacuating?
BMCS Noyes: The crew members. You know because a lot of these kids haven’t seen . . .
Q: Devastation like that.
BMCS Noyes: Well I’ve been in the Coast Guard for 25 years and I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes, of course nothing of this magnitude, but because I had participated in the Hurricane Pam exercise and we had a good idea of the devastation and the need to evacuate people, I tried to keep everybody informed of that and tried to keep them anticipating what the next thing would be. And you know with all the helicopters flying around we’re sitting there going, “We’re just about at the flight hours”, and, “There’s going to be a crash”. And about ten minutes later we heard of the first helicopter that crashed. And all my guys look at me and go, “How did you know that?” Common sense dictates. And then shortly after that I said “And a Halliburton subsidiary is going to get a no-bid contract to come in and clean stuff up”, and the next day Halliburton got a contract. And so my 20-year old Fireman was just going, “Alright, this is getting scary.” But you know the late night conversations with him and trying to keep him focused and the rest of the crew, and the rest of the boat crews, you know I kind of, you know . . . .
Q: Yes. I was going to ask, at the end of the day what was the mood like? You just tried to keep everybody together . . .
BMCS Noyes: Very somber.
Q: It was very somber?
BMCS Noyes: Well like I said, a lot of these kids had not experienced this and had nothing to base it on because when you see person after person after person that has just, (a): they’ve lost everything and the condition that they’re in after three or four days, you know they’ve been trudging through these floodwaters with God knows what floating in it. And of course they didn’t have any shoes but yet they could carry their guns and their booze out.
Q: Did any of the evacuees relay any of the reasons why they stayed there or did you have a chance to talk to anybody or did you hear something through the crewmembers why they stayed in New Orleans?
BMCS Noyes: I can tell you exactly why they stayed in New Orleans; because they were born and raised here.
Q: Not economic conditions or, “I want to save my pet”, or “I’m not leaving my home?”
BMCS Noyes: There was a lot of, “I want to save my pet”, alright. We saw everything from little dogs to big dogs to, you know, yes, I have a hard time with that person. I have two dogs of my own but believe me, if it came to the difference between evacuating or not evacuating just because of my dogs, you know my dogs rode Hurricane Opal out in the backyard in Mobile if that tells you anything, by themselves. Of course I was away then.
But the people of St. Bernard are of hardy stock, are of, you know, “This is my place and I’ve weathered . . .”, you know if I heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times, “Well you know Betsy this, Hurricane Betsy that, Hurricane Betsy this”, or “Camille”, And I lived through Camille and I can remember Camille, I was ten years old. So you don’t ever think that it’s going to be as bad as it actually is.
Now in Orleans Parish; different, alright. When we had the Hurricane Pam exercise the biggest concern always was people in Orleans Parish who did not have transportation of their own. So the plan was to use city buses. But then how do you designate all those RTA bus drivers as essential personnel and make them be in harms way, with or without their families, in order to evacuate other people, okay. It’s just like President Broussard over in Jefferson Parish. Now he’s catching crap for letting the pump operators leave a day early, alright. What difference would those pump operators have made to the flooding had they been there? And there’s a lot of armchair quarterbacking nowadays. But all this stuff had been discussed and talked about and discussed and talked about, and they had a plan, they had a plan, they had a plan. They just didn’t execute it the way it was supposed to go.
Q: Now did you have skiff boats down there too?
BMCS Noyes: We had our 18-foot skiff. We went through a lot of trouble to make sure that that boat was over there and that people were there to operate it. As we came down Tuesday it had to drive down the West Bank through the downed power lines and driving around the levee and I had a BM3 and an MK3 that were just very exhausted at the end of that trip.
Q: Everything; all the debris in the roadway.
BMCS Noyes: All the debris in the roadway and the darkness. But they showed remarkable ingenuity in getting through the metropolitan area.
Q: Were they armed when they went through?
BMCS Noyes: No.
BMCS Noyes: We’re an aids to navigation team, we don’t carry guns.
Q: Okay. Now once they got there what were they tasked to do or did they take it on their own to trailer their boat?
BMCS Noyes: They met up with us at the Navy base which is what they were told to do. The original plan was everybody was going to congregate at Waterford Nuclear Power Plant up by Bonnet Carre Spillway at Mile 135, but as we got closer and more information became available we moved that down into New Orleans. So they left Baton Rouge thinking they were going to Waterford and then they hopped, skipped and jumped on down and met up with us in New Orleans. And our skiff stayed over on the West Bank for a day and they ran with us on the 55 and then finely I got word of, I found out how people were getting back and forth over the Huey P. Long and so I dispatched them over to Sector New Orleans to assist as need be. By the time they got over there the people in Orleans Parish had already started shooting at the rescuers so they weren’t able to get underway in our skiff because they weren’t armed, so basically they were stuck at Sector New Orleans and they ended up ripping up carpets and cleaning up stuff for a day or two until through their ingenuity they were able to. . . they wouldn’t let them leave without an armed escort so they found a couple of guys from MSO Morgan City who were going home and they had guns. So they called them their armed escort and they left and they made it back to Houma to where the BM1 was to serve as a relief crew and shore-side logistician from there. So they got involved, not like they wanted to but they got involved.
Q: Alright. Well how long did your mission last there and what happened next; you came back here to Dulac?
BMCS Noyes: We operated there in New Orleans for eight days. At the end of the first four days the boat crews; the 41-footer crews that were there, got relieved by boat crews from the 1st and 5th District and then two days after that the Pamlico and the Clamp and the 55108 got chopped off that mission and were sent down to Venice down river to start restoring the mouth of the river; aides and navigation. I was left behind to run this flotilla of small boats, which by that time the Spencer was inport and the Tortuga had shown up, and the plan was that our boat crews would be berthed on the Tortuga, which let me tell you, is just a disgusting ship.
Q: I’ve been on there. I was there [chuckle]. Okay.
BMCS Noyes: So the crew of the 55119 went through two separate 41-footer boat crew swaps and it was the second Wednesday, yes, the second Wednesday. One day where the Spencer was there and we were running all the small boats and everybody was asking for a boat here or there, and the mission was evolving from evacuation to port security. And the Spencer was taking more and more of that job on and we were just dispatching small boats to cover that mission, and that’s when we hit the wall and I told my crew, I said, “Guys, I’m sorry to be the first one to call it quits” [chuckle]. And my BM2 turned around and said, “Senior Chief, look around. Who’s here? Who’s left here from whenever we showed up Tuesday whenever it was?” And then I knew it was time for us to . . . so we took a couple of days off and we parked the boat at the Navy West Bank and we came home and took some down time, leaving the 55 there for the 9th District SAR team that had shown up with their ICE boats to use as their communications platform. So they utilized the 55 over there for the radios while we came back for some crew rest and to find out what was going on. That was the first time I got out to Slidell to see my house that had a 22-inch pine tree through the side of it.
Q: So you actually had damage yourself?
BMCS Noyes: Yes.
Q: Were you able to evacuate anything out of your house or you never even went back?
BMCS Noyes: I only had six to nine inches of water in my house and my wife and two boys were in Florida and my 18 year old daughter was in the dormitory up at LSU, so she was okay. I wasn’t worried about her. But some friends of ours in Slidell cut the tree out of the side of the house and put a tarp up and started pulling out carpet. Later on that same day my wife and two brother-in-laws and a friend of ours from Mobile showed up and finished ripping the carpets out. So we got the wet carpet and padding out of our house relatively quick and some of the furniture that was water damaged and everything. So our house, while it’s not as nice as some, it’s not as bad as others. But we‘re facing about a year’s worth of rebuild on our house in Slidell.
Q: Are you receiving any kind of assistance on that?
BMCS Noyes: You know we got the 2,000 dollar FEMA grant and we got the 2,300 dollar temporary living stuff; Red Cross money, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, insurance. USAA is . . . because the tree came through the side of the house and all the water was from the tree, I don’t have to worry about flood because being the arrogant cuss that I am I didn’t have flood insurance because I pay extra to live in this Flood Zone “C”, which is high ground. There were some houses around me that took water because they were a little bit lower then us, because I had spent all summer building up my lot. I put 18 yards of sand and two layers of sod all around my house during the course of the summer just to build my lot up.
Q: To keep it high.
BMCS Noyes: Yes.
Q: Now could you elaborate on ATON discrepancies around here; what’s going on with that?
BMCS Noyes: Post Katrina or Rita?
Q: Well you can do both [chuckle].
BMCS Noyes: During Katrina in our AOR; in Dulac’s AOR, we didn’t suffer that many outages. They were minor because we were on the west side of the storm and the crews from ANT Morgan City and ANT New Orleans, because ANT New Orleans was totally wiped out but their boats and everything and their crews were okay, and they went over to Morgan City. But the other ANTs ran our area and fixed minor discrepancies while we were out on the river doing the king’s business out there. There was one barge that was sunk off the right descending bank that posed a problem. So the crew of the 55119; we had some buoys on deck. We had a buoy on deck and we were able to salvage a programmable lantern from Group ANT’s office at the ISC. We got some chain from the Pamlico and we recovered a Dormor [phonetic] sinker from the ISC and we went out and set a wreck buoy on the sunken barge in the river so commerce could start again; ships started moving up and down the river. And then after we came back from our little break; crew rest period, we went into the aide recovery mission and we got out into the Gulf outlet where we visited 12 aides in a day after stopping at the ISC and loading stuff, and getting kicked off the ISC because obviously it was an ecological nightmare and we didn’t know about it. So we went in there and started loading gear and then they came and made us leave. But after you spend two and a half hours in the industrial locks with 47 dead fish you get a good feeling for the ecological impact of this particular thing. When you see cockroaches dying in New Orleans in the water you know it’s not good.
Q: Now out here at the station do you have any severe damage?
BMCS Noyes: The damage to ANT Dulac was caused by hurricane Rita.
BMCS Noyes: And if you look out here you’ll see some piles of bushes, branches and stuff. That was Hurricane Katrina.
BMCS Noyes: Hurricane Rita put four/four and a half foot of water all throughout the unit.
BMCS Noyes: So all the damage that you’ll see or you see here now is Hurricane Rita related, which we had just brought our computers back down off the top of the lockers and had started getting back into, “Alright, we need to go out and work some aides and back to normal business”, and then we got the order to evacuate for Rita. Well the computers were not put back up on the lockers because it was going into Texas! And so the water went over everybody’s desk. I had two coffee cups on my desk that my children had given me that were full of water.
Q: Well has anybody been out here to assess the damage?
BMCS Noyes: The very first day that the water receded CEU Miami came out and did an assessment. Shortly after that we had an ERT out of ISC St. Louis; the Emergency Response Team out of ISC St. Louis come out with a Bobcat and cleaned out the parking lot the best they could, pushing mud everywhere. Of course we have some shoaling concerns here down by the boat ramp where the 55 ties up and we didn’t really want the mud pushed down the boat ramp, which would have been the easiest thing. So we wanted to get it out into the yard to maybe raise up the property a little bit but it was still too muddy so they pushed it out the front gate. It just so happened that this house right outside the front gate belongs to a Methodist women’s group and there’s a nurse up in Houma that came down to check on the property and saw all the mud that had been pushed out of the Coast Guard front gate and it was in her yard now, and so she knew somebody who knew somebody who got the word to an Admiral who got the word to me through a chaplain. So I had to call her up and apologize and make sure that she knew that we were going to get the mud out of the way. And Mr. Rock; the caretaker of the community center down here in Dulac, he got out there on his little tractor and pushed the mud out of the way as best as he could and he told me not to worry about it. But it’s a tight knit community down here. We’ll take care of each other.
Q: Well are there any memorable moments that you’d care to share with us; either something that happened while you were in New Orleans or the people around here that helped you out?
BMCS Noyes: Sure. After Hurricane Katrina; the first Sunday after Hurricane Katrina, we had been operating with the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Department who had commandeered the Cajun Queen, which is an excursion boat, to use as their headquarters because everything else had already been messed up. Well it just so happened that the Cajun Queen had just been stocked with liquor and beer by its owner. So Sunday night as our mission was changing up at Algiers point and because we had provided AC&R techs to the Cajun Queen and MKs off the Spencer had fixed their generators and their air conditioner and stuff like this, and you know, when you get a group of Coasties together somebody’s going to go foraging for beer. On Sunday we were able to find 196 beers. We found ice out at the Alerio Center in Westwego and we got in a government vehicle and I drove out there and got two loads of ice. We had 101 people operating on a little flotilla in between the MSST, the 41s, the 55s, the Pamlico and the Clamp, and we were able to amass 196 beers, iced down and ready to go. So we sat out there on the ferry landing at Algiers point and had a little community . . .
Q: Fellowship out there.
BMCS Noyes: Yes, a little fellowship.
Q: Also, is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t covered here?
BMCS Noyes: ANT Dulac is like a social experiment for the Coast Guard, me being the first ex-quartermaster receiving a shore ATON command and my XPO; BM1 Karen Boxwell, is the first ever female down here. So everybody is waiting for us to just screw it up.
So she didn’t get underway with us because there’s no female berthing on a 55 and she was left behind to be a Tanb Coxswain. Well the Tanb wasn’t needed. So her husband is an AST2 at the air station and in-between the job that he was doing; rescuing people, he was the first one on the roof of the nursing home in Chalmette. You know he was the first one on many roofs that nobody wanted to be the first one on.
She opened up her house to be like our forward operating base because it’s a 20-minute drive down there and it’s a 20-minute drive back up, so we just operated out of Houma. She found a Wal-Mart in Westwego. She just happened to be driving by and there were people standing out front and she stopped and she just started talking to them and told them what was going on. “The Coast Guard this and that, bla bla, bla”. They opened up that Wal-Mart to search and rescue personnel. So everyday she would go to that Wal-Mart and get a certain amount of supplies that they were giving to her. One day she would go to the air station with underwear, socks, clothing, fruit cups, rubber gloves, you name it. One day she would go to the air station and one day she would make it into the West Bank, to the river where we were, and we had like a Walgreens on the 55. You know it got to a point where I was feeling guilty about the bug spray, the hand sanitizer, the gloves, and of course we were passing it out to everybody as needed. But whenever I got down there one morning and I counted, we had like 13 fruit cups, and baby wipes; because that’s how you had to take a bath, with baby wipes. So I went to every small boat in our little flotilla and I told them, “You send me one guy over and we’re going to open up the store”, and everybody got to shop and take what they wanted. But she had gone to this store everyday to get stuff and bring it in and that was her part.
After Hurricane Rita; the Friday Hurricane Rita came through, she was coming down to the unit to get the generator because they lost power up there again and our generator got left here. Normally it was up there at her house in Houma, you know, after Katrina. So her and her husband are driving down the road in a government vehicle because they had been evaded up there and got as far as the Grand Cailou Fire Department where the water was; where the flooding was, where they ran into the flooding, and she talked to the fire chief of the Grand Cailou Volunteer Fire Department up there who made a request for federal assistance. He said that there were five to ten thousand people that needed to be rescued, which is basically the population of South Terrebonne. From Pointe-aux-Chene to Montague to Dulac, to DuLarge; all these little communities south of Houma were flooded because the levee breaks. She got on the phone to the sector - I was over in Florida with my family, alright - she called me to let me know what was going on. She got on the phone with the sector. She was designated as the On-scene Commander for Coast Guard response to the flooding of South Terrebonne, coordinated helicopter rescues, coordinated boat rescues, and in the first day alone contacted 250 to 300 people asking them did they want to be rescued, you know asking them, “Are you okay, do you want to be rescued”, and they brought out three special need victims. That’s all that would leave and they were all helicopter rescues. The next day; Saturday, I left Florida and started coming back over here and she got down, they; the crew, with a BM1 in charge, got down here at first light and working with the Terrebonne Parish Sheriffs Department, the Louisiana National Guard and the Arkansas National Guard, they sent seven helicopters over here; the Coast Guard sent seven helicopters, and knowing that not all seven of them could be used in one clump she devised a plan to divvy them up, you know, “Give me a couple here, give me a couple here and give and give me a couple, and then send the rest of them on over to Vermilion Parish”, where there was a need. I knew the officer in charge of the
Pelican was dealing with his own flooding event over there, so with her talking to me and me talking to her and me talking to him, the information got around and the helicopters got dispersed where they needed to be dispersed. But she was the On-scene Coordinator for the Coast Guard response for Friday and all day Saturday. I showed up around one o’clock. We got in the skiff and we came down here and we took a look at the unit. We floated across the driveway. I took the flag down. I’ve got both the flags from the unit from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita and we’re going to mount those somewhere. But her actions personally . . . we know that there were six special need victims that were medivaced out. She even actually had to be hoisted up with one because the lady had Alzheimers and was scared so she sat in the basket with her and hugged her as she was hoisted up into the helicopter and got out of the basket, and then it was lowed back down. You know and of course her husband’s a rescue swimmer.
Q: She was ready for it.
BMCS Noyes: The guy that was in the helicopter knew her and this lady was starting to freak out so he just went up and said, “Sit down”, and she sat in the basket and up they went. But her actions then, her actions during Katrina, the entire crew’s actions, alright, and this is a small nine-man ANT, and we just kicked some ass. It’s plain and simple. And all the while there are still people saying that she’s a female and she doesn’t know what she’s doing and she can’t do the job, and it just pisses me off beyond belief.
Q: Well that goes on.
BMCS Noyes: I get a little emotional about that.
Q: Alright. Well thank you very much. It was great. You covered everything pretty well.
BMCS Noyes: I’ve been going over this stuff in my head.
Q: What you were going to say?
BMCS Noyes: No, just because from Day One I’ve always been on ships and we always kept meticulous logs. And from Day One I tried to write stuff down but then it just got too busy and nobody really kept a log, so at the end of every day you would sit down and try to go over what you did and try to keep it straight. And of course, you know it’s been seven weeks so you talk to a thousand people, “Well what did you see, what did you do” and sometimes you can get through it and sometimes you can’t.
Q: Yes, there’s just too much. You can only do so much.
BMCS Noyes: But the biggest thing is, yes, we’ve got to get out and work some buoys. We’ve got to get back to ATON and every time you turn around there’s something.
Q: There’s something coming at you.
BMCS Noyes: And now we’ve got Tropical Storm Wilma.
Q: Yes. Well when do you think you’re going to get back to normal operations or do you have any idea?
BMCS Noyes: It will be about a year before everything is . . . and we had plans to cut the roof off the building and add a second story because this is not the first time that ANT Dulac has been flooded and that plan was kind of put on the back burner for ’06. But now it’s being brought to the forefront because we were a total loss. We lost everything down there so it doesn’t make sense to just go and rebuild.
Q: Are they going to rebuild this building? They’re going to get rid of that?
BMCS Noyes: Well if they go through with the smart plan they’ll use this cinderblock building as a workshop on the bottom and build a second story, elevate it to where the next time it floods it’ll just flood cinderblock. Captain Mueller up at the sector has come up with a plan of tool boxes on dollies and trailers to evacuate stuff like NASCAR trailers; you just push your tools on the trailer and go. So that seems to be . . . his thing is, “I said it right after Katrina and they all thought I was an idiot. Now I’m one of the smart people” because as the idea takes hold . . . .
Q: Totally modular.
BMCS Noyes: Exactly, just get up and go. Get up and go and evacuate.
Q: Alright. So do you want to take us around and we’ll take a few photos?
BMCS Noyes: Sure.
END OF INTERVIEW