HeroicStories #632: 9 September 2005 http://www.HeroicStories.com
The Last Boat Out Story Editor:
by Robert LeBlanc Clayton Bennett
On Wednesday, August 31, my friend Jeff Rau and I wove a motorboat
through New Orleans, pulling people out of the water. We ferried people
all day between Carrolton Avenue and the Causeway overpass, about a mile
and a half each way.
Early on, we saw a black man in a boat with no motor. He rescued people
and paddled them a mile and a half to safety — with nothing but a piece
of two by four lumber for a paddle. He then turned around and went back
for more people. He refused our help, saying he didn’t want to slow us
down. At 5 p.m. he headed on another trip, knowing he would finish after
One group of 50 people we rescued that Wednesday afternoon was on the
bridge that crosses over Airline Highway near Carrolton Avenue. Most had
been there with no food, water, or anywhere to go since Monday morning,
with 10 feet of water all around them.
One man had been there since the beginning, helping people reach the
bridge and caring for them afterward. He didn’t leave the bridge until
everyone got off safely, even deferring to people who’d just arrived.
This man waited on the bridge until dusk, leaving on one of the last
boats out that night. He risked not making it at all.
In a really rough neighborhood, we came across five seemingly unsavory
characters, one with gunshot wound scars. We found them at a
recreational center, one of the few two-story buildings around. They
broke into the center, then gathered as many people as possible from the
They stayed outside in the center all day, helping people into rescue
boats. We approached them at 6:30 p.m., obviously one of the last trips
of the day. Yet instead of getting in our boat, they sent us further
into the neighborhood to get more people out of homes and off rooftops.
These five were on the last boat out at sundown. They were incredibly
grateful, repeating “God is going to bless y’all for this”. One even
offered us his Allen Iverson jersey, perhaps the most valuable
possession among them. We declined, but understood the depth of his
The looting and shooting you saw on television tells but a small part of
the story. By showing the worst effects of Hurricane Katrina and the
flooding that followed, news reports discouraged volunteers from
helping. But help was still needed, and will be for a long time.
In case it matters, I’m politically conservative. I was impressed to see
young and seemingly poor black people caring for sickly and seemingly
well-to-do white people. We can sort out political issues later; anyone
with a sense of compassion will agree that New Orleans needs help,
people’s lives need to be saved and families need to be put back
together. They now need all of our help.
I want everyone to know how gracious these people were, despite being
stranded and panicked. This transcends politics. It’s about humanity.