Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

New Orleans PD


Water rescue, New Orleans
Water rescue, New Orleans

"We knew the water was coming up, but I never realized how bad things were until we got out there, until we saw what was happening," says Capt. Robert Norton, commander of the NOPD marine unit and dive team.

Norton and about 100 officers sought shelter from the hurricane in the Louisiana State University dental school building.  After the storm passed, Norton stepped outside and got his first glimpse of the devastation.  The wind had torn roofs from houses.  It had snapped telephone poles and ripped 200-year-old oak trees from the ground.  It had also pushed the brackish waters of Lake Pontchartrain into the city and turned whole neighborhoods into lakes.  All of the police cars parked at the dental school were underwater.  "It was just unbelievable," Norton says.

Although he had no police cars left, Norton did have a boat, so he and another officer climbed into it and headed out to search for survivors.

"When we got the boat out of the dental center, the first thing I saw was a guy on the roof of his car," Norton recalls.   "It was a shock how high the water was." 

The man had been standing on his car for 10 hours, trying to stay above the fast-rising flood. 

Flooded, ruined cars, 9th Ward
Flooded, ruined cars, 9th Ward

Norton and his partner loaded the man into the boat and dropped him off at an interstate overpass.  They went back into the flooded neighborhoods again and again, ferrying boatloads of frightened residents to higher ground.  They kept at it until the boat's motor got so fouled with debris that it locked up. 

While his partner lifted the motor out of the water to try to clear it, Norton had to hold on to a street sign to keep the windstill blowing hard on the backside of the stormfrom shoving the boat into a house or a tree.  Eventually, the motor coughed back to life but lasted only long enough for the two policemen to get back to the dental school. 

Back at the school, Norton realized that he and the other officers who'd taken refuge there had no way out.  They were surrounded by water, had no transportation, and no way to communicate.  The storm had knocked out everythingcell phones, landlines, and police radios.  The dental school had become an island, cut off from the rest of the city, and Norton and the others had been marooned.