City of Resilience

Joe Cull Outside

by NOPD Chaplain Joe Cull

Four days after Katrina made landfall, officers of the New Orleans Police Department’s 2nd District were assigned to assist people at the Convention Center. Orders were given not to go inside, and the Sergeant requested that I stick close to him.

When we arrived, the massive crowd was remarkably well-behaved. Despite being hot, hungry, and thirsty, there was an impressive level of patience and self-control. People were being resourceful, doing what they could to help one another—this included looting.

…Our memories of Katrina and the boundless altruism it inspired give us hope that our city will endure.

Initially, “looting” seemed to be a dirty word, an act of the weak and selfish. Looting now meant survival and assisting the sick, elderly, and young. One man was barbecuing looted meat and handing it out. Two carloads of juice and milk taken from a local dairy arrived, still cold from the refrigerated trucks. The police officers and I hurriedly passed out these precious beverages.

Suddenly, we heard screams for help. An officer ran into the crowd, and I followed close behind. We approached a young woman performing CPR on her one-month-old infant. The baby had stopped breathing.

Joe Cull stands outside of the New Orleans Convention Center

As a former fireman, I tapped into every calm resource I had and prepared myself to administer CPR. Fortunately, the mother had been able to restore her son’s breathing, and I held him gingerly, carefully monitoring his breaths.

The baby needed immediate medical attention. But with no EMS available and all local hospitals surrounded by water or evacuated, the Sergeant decided to transport the baby himself. Within moments, the three of us were sitting in the back of an NOPD SUV speeding toward West Jefferson Hospital.

As we crossed the Crescent City Connection, the mother asked who would be bringing her three other children, all under the age of six. She begged, “Please don’t leave my babies.” The Sergeant radioed his officers to go back into the building, gather the children, and bring them to meet us at the hospital. His actions eased her fears, and I assured her that they would be reunited soon. The 2nd District officers went beyond the call of duty to guarantee the infant got the care he needed, and that the family stayed together.

Stories like this remind us that even in tragedy and hardship, there will always be good people ready to lend a helping hand. The resourceful helpers, healthcare workers, frontline responders, chaplains, police, and everyday kind strangers are the people who keep our community strong in trying times. As our nation experiences another mass tragedy, our memories of Katrina and the boundless altruism it inspired give us hope that our city will endure.

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