Help through Hurricane Zeta

by NOPD Chaplain Joe Cull

Hurricane Zeta passed quickly, yet powerfully, through New Orleans. Its destruction downed many trees and power lines. Soon after the storm passed, a “man down possibly due to electrocution” was dispatched.

NOPD Chaplains Holding Badges

I drove to the scene, maneuvering around debris that littered the streets. When I arrived, all power had been shut off. The victim was declared dead.

Based on witness accounts, the victim had touched a hanging power line unaware it was “live”. The incidental contact not only began to electrocute him, but blew out the nearest transformer. Taking on a life of its own, the wire wrapped around his neck, jettisoning the hat he was wearing 20 feet away, landing gracefully upside down in the wet grass.

He was the first known Hurricane Zeta fatality. To show respect to the victim, I assisted an officer with setting up a screen shielding the body from curious onlookers. I approached a crowd of neighbors and expressed my condolences. I listened to them as they described the victim’s desperate screams for help, shaking until he died. Everyone at the scene was extremely saddened by the loss of this man’s life.

Nearby, an emotional young man loudly cursed first responders for acting too slowly to save his friend’s life. Traumatized, he vented his anger. Quietly I listened, empathizing and affirming him in his heroic efforts to rescue his dying friend.

He soon felt sorry for expressing his anger at the first responders. I assured him they understood his frustrations and did not take it personally. Several officers knew the victim and were just as grief-stricken. At his request, I conveyed his sorrow to them which they graciously accepted without judgment.

The Coroner removed the body, at which time, I noticed the victim’s hat remained where it landed. Since it was an accidental death, the hat was not collected as evidence.

Respectfully, I retrieved the hat and carried it to the grieving young man. Upon handing it to him, he accepted it, burst into tears, and thanked me for the gesture.

In return, I thanked Him. Unspoken, my gratitude to God was not only rooted in His caring spirit, but the opportunity to serve the first responders and the people of New Orleans.

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