Yesterday, the nation marked the 5-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans. For the people of the Gulf, the men and women of the Coast Guard and the millions tracking the storm, landfall was only the beginning of what would become a major rescue and recovery effort. As we continue to offer reflections from Coast Guard men and women who responded to Katrina, we bring you the stories of two responders whose careers will be forever linked to the Gulf region.
In the hours after the storm, David Young, then a machinery technician second class, and nine other Marine Safety and Security Team (MSST) New Orleans members left their families and homes behind to go help those that were in need.
Using four 25-foot small boats, the MSST crew covered both sides of the river and within the first day had set up an evacuation point at Algiers Point.
Using what little resources they had, they formed a system to evacuate as many people as they could. As word traveled about the evacuation point, so did the number of people who arrived at Algiers point with the prospect of being transported to safety.
“We experienced a massive amount of tired, hungry, thirsty and devastated people all looking to us for help,” said Young. “We soon realized that our trucks and boats would not suffice the amount of people we were dealing with.”
With nowhere to go to for more supplies, and more help not yet on its way, Young and another machinery technician began using city and school busses – any vehicle they found that could be used for mass transport.
“When we ran the gas out of one bus, we’d pull over at a new one and then return to Algiers point for another load. It seemed like the more people we got out to safety, twice as much would arrive,” he said.
Despite his resourcefulness, Young knew that moving people on buses would not be enough. After three days, he looked for other ways to get people help.
“I looked up in the sky and saw what must have been 15 military helicopters flying around the city,” said Young. “We cleared a parking lot out and spray painted a big circle with an ‘H’ in the middle of it.”
Helicopters, one after another, arrived and flew people to safety. Due to Young’s ingenuity and inventiveness in a time of such crises, an estimated 7,500 people were evacuated from Algiers Point and the West Bank.
While Young and his crew performed evacuations at Algiers Point, across the river, Noah Watson, at the time a machinery technician second class, was experiencing the unknown.
He arrived in New Orleans with his team two days after Katrina made landfall, and reported to the Incident Command Post at Zephyr Field.
While Watson had extensive knowledge on law enforcement and small boat operations, he was not trained in urban rescues. Despite his limited knowledge and experience, Watson was assigned to a team that went into inner-city areas to evacuate people from their homes and transport them to safety.
Watson was going from neighborhood to neighborhood, home to home looking for survivors and witnessed firsthand, those who were in the direst of situations.
As part of the small boat recovery effort, he vividly recalls moments where he was overwhelmed with the devastation and urgency of his aid.
“I remember when I came up to this house, three stories tall that was flooded to the second story. There was a family of four inside and the family did not want to leave their home,” said Watson.
After some encouraging words and desperate pleading, the family got into Watson’s boat and was evacuated to safety. At one time an outsider to urban rescues and New Orleans, he found himself going from building to building bringing hope to the community for the next 35 days.
Both Watson and Young encountered immense challenges throughout their response to Hurricane Katrina, whether it was unfamiliar land or limited resources. Their challenges were overcome and due to their ability to react and move beyond their setbacks and limitations, countless lives were saved.
“Myself and nine other [junior service members] jumped into the fire not knowing what to expect. But like the Coast Guard has done for hundreds of years, we adapted and overcame,” said Young.
Back to the Gulf
Five years after their Katrina experience, now Machinery Technician 1st Class Young and Maritime Enforcement Specialist 2nd Class Watson find themselves back in the Gulf, this time as shipmates on the Coast Guard Cutter Decisive responding to a very different kind of disaster.
As crewmembers on CGC Decisive, they are deployed at the well site for Deepwater Horizon, providing the search and rescue and hurricane guard as well as aircraft control for responders.
To read more about the Decisive and her role in the Deepwater Horizon response and recovery operations, click here.