Monday, October 17, 2005


Aussies ride out of the hell of the superdome
By Peter Mitchell in Dallas and Frank WalkerSeptember 4, 2005The Sun-Herald
Page Tools
Email to a friend
Printer format

With a mixture of joy and anger, nine Australian victims of Hurricane Katrina came to the end of their horrific and almost deadly journey last night.
They danced in a circle and hugged after they clambered from the bus that had carried them on their 13-hour flight from New Orleans to Dallas, Texas.
But despite their delight at escaping from "hell", they were angry that nobody from the Australian Government was there to meet them in Dallas, or help them through their ordeal.
"Where is the Australian Government?" Mick Ryan, 25, from Lithgow asked. "We haven't received any help at all."
The nine - aged 21 to 32 - had been told by British evacuees who joined them on the journey that staff from the British embassy were waiting for them in Dallas.
"We were left in New Orleans to fend for ourselves," said Michelle van Grinsven, 21, from Bangor in Sydney, who survived the ordeal with her older sister Lisa, 23.
The nine spent three terrifying days locked in the New Orleans Superdome indoor stadium with rapists and murderers.
They said US authorities did little to protect the innocent victims of the hurricane while they all sought refuge in the stadium.
"Women were raped," Elise Sims, 20, from Adelaide said.
"People were stabbed. A man committed suicide. Soldiers shot people.
"It was like being in a Third World country but we were in the United States."
The group made a harrowing escape from the Superdome to the New Orleans Hyatt Hotel by hiding in the back of a ute.
The vehicle sped through the streets of the city to escape looters and snipers who controlled many areas.
Asked what was the worst part of the ordeal, Ms van Grinsven replied: "We couldn't tell you. Let's just say everything."
Anthony "Bud" Hopes, 32, of Brisbane, emerged as a hero for the small group in the Superdome, where lawlessness and filth was everywhere.
"It was very dicey," Mr Hopes said. "A very bad situation. It was somewhere between a disaster area full of refugees and a jail. The girls were in real danger. We knew we had to stick together. We were a minority group inside a stadium with 25,000 people.
"There were gangsters, thugs, rapists, child molesters: anything you want to put in there, it was in there. They were molesting children that we saw. If girls from our group walked to the toilet they were felt up and filthy comments made to them. It was horrible, terrible.
"New Orleans broke down within hours of the hurricane. Once the power went off in the Superdome there was no air-conditioning and no sunlight. We were all locked in the one place with no sanitation, no light, and people were fighting over food and water.
"It was the worst experience of our lives. The hurricane was a walk in the park compared to what happened afterwards."
Lisa van Grinsven said she had been terrified.
"You couldn't go anywhere without being grabbed and hassled. We stopped queuing for food as we were too scared. The boys in the group said not to go anywhere by ourselves.
"I didn't see people raped but we were afraid we would be attacked. At night there were people shouting and screaming. The stink got worse and worse. Everyone was scared."
The Australians' dramatic accounts came as the Department of Foreign Affairs said about 40 to 50 Australians were still unaccounted for, but there were no reports of casualties.
Missing was Sydney woman Denise Drake, 29, who called her mother, Mercedes, to say she was trapped in a church with a group of other Australians.
Her mother said yesterday: "I am not coping well. My daughter is alive but I don't know for how long. She is trapped without food and water."
Yasmin Bright, 22, from Newcastle, said she would not stop in the temporary shelters.
She will continue her trip to Europe.

No comments: