Briton Tells of Katrina Nightmare

Helen Neill, BBC News, Sept. 10

Stuart Bird’s summer-of-a-lifetime trip turned into a nightmare when Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans.

When the eighteen-year-old and his friends got the order to evacuate the city, like many tourists, they found they had no way of getting out.

Their hotel manager initially persuaded the boys to ignore advice to go to the city’s now notorious Superdome.

The pictures Stuart, 18, from Rugby, took show the devastation of the hurricane, and rising flood waters, taken from his room.

Then, running out of food and water by the middle of the week, Stuart and his friends gladly accepted the US army’s offer to take them to the Superdome by boat.

They hadn’t heard any of the terrifying stories from other “internationals” trapped there.

Stuart describes the scene as they arrived there as “jaw dropping, it was hell, like nothing you could ever imagine”.

He told me that there were “tens of thousands of people” queuing outside for buses. He joined them for what would turn out to be the most frightening 13 hours of his life.

Unable to sit down, move, eat or drink, he says “people were just shouting at us, we were basically getting racially abused all the time”.

A man standing next to him threatened to get a “gun out and shoot all the white people”.

He saw a woman dragged out of the crowd, apparently dead; “they didn’t even bother to lift her off the ground”.

Proud to be British

Contrary to reports from other Britons caught in the eye of Katrina, Stuart says that the help he received from consular officials when they eventually reached Houston, Texas, made him “proud to be British”.

They organised a flight straight home, and he has worked out that by the time he landed at Heathrow, he hadn’t slept for 72 hours.

His mum, dad and sister were there to meet him in what he describes as “the biggest relief ever” (although when I met him at his home near Rugby, he was most pleased to be back with the two family cats).

Stuart knows that he is lucky to have a home and family to return to. He’s decided to put off going to university for a year so that he can spend some more time with them.

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