Canton Repository

Sept. 12, 2005

Area troops recoil at Superdome experience

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

NEW ORLEANS, La. — Area National Guard troops who provided security for thousands of people packed into the New Orleans Superdome as protection against Hurricane Katrina said they never will forget the horror of the experience.

“It was surreal and hard to believe you were in the United States,” said Sgt. 1st Class Craig Wuske of Massillon, a member of the 1-148th Infantry Battalion in North Canton.

“You have all these people stranded on an island and you’ve got no port-a-potties, so they were doing their business wherever they could find.”

The battalion, which has about 100 soldiers based at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport, began patrolling the Superdome four days after the hurricane and remained through last Monday to evacuate the stadium and make sure everyone had left.

For the past week, the troops have been searching for survivors of the hurricane in a northeast section of the city.

Although the dome had sporadic power from generators, and plenty of food and water, the soldiers said there was no air conditioning and not enough restrooms.

The troops said people they described as a minority of those in the Superdome broke through walls to get booze out of concession areas and smeared excrement on walls.

The place overflowed with trash and the stench was overpowering and unforgettable, they said.

“I never thought humans were capable of some of the things they did,” said Staff Sgt. Edward Swiger of Barberton. When the unit arrived, after the dome had been filled for several days, “it seemed like everybody we talked to was drunk or high,” he said.

The worst thing for many of the Guardsmen was to see children have to endure the experience along with alcoholics, prostitutes, drug addicts, thugs, vagrants and others, they said.

“It was rough, especially for people that had kids,” Wuske said. “You looked at the conditions they were in. It was sad.”

“I would think about my kids,” said Lt. Thomas Rose of Kent. “It just pulls out your heart when you see something like that.”

Yet the troops said after they rescued and handcuffed a drunken man who was about to jump to his death from a balcony, there seemed to be a new appreciation for order.

“It seemed like from that point on it settled down really quick,” Swiger said.

The soldiers also said it was heart-rending when they moved people into buses and had to insist they take only one bag and could not bring their pets.

But they expressed pride in what they accomplished.

“I know we’re making a difference,” Swiger said. “We got 15,000 people out (of the Dome) within 12 hours. And we’re not even trained to do it.”