Remembering Katrina: Fifth generation New Orleanian recalls recovery efforts

Kate Jamison, Online News Editor

For the Bisso family, Hurricane Katrina was expected to be a storm like many others. Fifth generation New Orleanians, Wiliam A. ‘Beau’ Bisso IV and his family went to the family business, Bisso Marine, to ride out the storm. Bisso Marine’s New Orleans office was an offshore quarters site for the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Andrew and is built to withstand hurricanes. Bisso took shelter there for many hurricanes in the past. They went to Bisso Marine’s offices on the banks of the Mississippi River in New Orleans to ride out the storm on Saturday, anticipating returning to their uptown home a few days later. However, in the few days after the storm, after reviewing the damage and flooding in uptown both by front-loader and by truck (clearing tree branches from streets along the way), the Bissos decided to evacuate to Houston, Texas.

Bisso had surveyed his home and his parents home on Sunday immediately following the storm and reported that everything looked okay. But when he returned in the next few days, he noticed that water was slowly rising out of the drains, a result of the levee breach. Although Broadway Street and Audubon Boulevard had been dry on Sunday, by Wednesday there was flooding that reached the corner of Broadway and Maple streets. Bisso told his family that his original assessment may not have been correct.

“I get back to the office and I say, ‘Something crazy is going on around here….there is water, it wasn’t there yesterday and it’s there today,'” Bisso said. “It became abundantly clear at that point that, quite frankly, something was very fucked up in that this was not part of the normal post-hurricane routine in New Orleans.”

The family drove to Houston where they were able to find a hotel room. Friends helped them find a rental home and furniture. But as soon as the family was safe in Houston, Bisso called a meeting of his employees in the area and announced that he was heading back to New Orleans to help.

Bisso sent a vessel to Baton Rouge to transport volunteers back into New Orleans. One week after the storm, they arrived on the dock at the Bisso Marine location on the river in New Orleans early on Monday morning, nine days after the storm.  

“Just as the sun was coming up in the predawn hours, watching the amount of helicopters in the air was just unbelievable,” Bisso said. “There were probably 150 helicopters flying all over the place from the city and I said ‘My god, this is a war zone.’”

New Orleans didn’t just look like a war zone from the sky, according to Bisso. Looters ravaged many homes, breaking in and stealing what they could. Military personnel patrolled the streets, occasionally stopping Bisso and his workers and asking to see their licenses. At that point, very few people were allowed in the city and those who were there were prepared for the potential dangers.

“Everyone, and I mean everyone, was walking around with a sidearm or a shotgun or something,” Bisso said.

Although Bisso was equipped with weapons to protect himself and heavy machinery for the marine work that his company provided, basic provisions like food and water were not easily available to them. Grocery stores had been looted. Clean drinking water was not easy to find. Bisso would fly to Texas to collect water and MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat) and return to New Orleans in the morning to do more work. He said that being in the city in the first few weeks after the storm was an unforgettable experience.

“It was like literally watching the most amazing historical event and living right in the middle of it…seeing it and taking it all in and thinking man, this is insanely crazy and it’s terrible, and at the same time from the standpoint of the significance of something in making it was amazing to see,” Bisso said. 

Bisso continued his trips between Houston and New Orleans for weeks before he eventually settled in Texas with his family. The family still lives in Texas.

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