Without ever leaving home, Gerald Martin lived out one of the most remarkable survival stories of Hurricane Katrina. Rescuers who found him on Friday, as they searched his neighbourhood by boat, were astounded at his good spirits and resiliency after 18 days without food or human contact. "It's an incredible story of survival," said Louie Fernandez, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency search unit that carried out the rescue.
In recent days, search crews have been finding corpses by the dozens in the still-flooded neighbourhoods of New Orleans, but not trapped survivors. The Fema search-and-rescue boat did not expect to find anyone alive at 6010 Painters St, but they planned to search the one-storey wooden house.
As the motor idled and the boat glided forward, they heard a voice. "Hey, over here." Using a sledgehammer, a Fema rescuer broke down the front door and went inside with another team member, struggling through a living room jumbled with overturned, sodden furniture.
They found Mr Martin sitting in a chair in the sludge-covered kitchen, partially undressed in an effort to keep cool. After 16 days in his attic, he had descended to the ground floor two days earlier when the floodwaters - once up to the ceiling - finally drained, even though the house remained surrounded by several feet of water. Incredibly, Mr Martin - who ran out of water on Thursday - was able to walk out of the house with just a bit of assistance.
"He was weak, very tired, but he was able to speak, able to stand," Mr Fernandez said. "He was very relieved. He was very thirsty. He was in good spirits." Mr Martin was given water to drink, then taken to hospital, where he was treated for dehydration.
In a brief telephone interview with the Associated Press, Mr Martin said he was feeling fine. "So far, so good," he said. As for his ordeal, his description was concise: "I was living in the attic for 16 days, and I was living off water."
Mr Martin's family left before the storm, but he stayed to attend church, later took a nap, and then woke to find that his home was filling with water. He only had time to grab some drinking water and get to his attic, which he described as feeling like an oven during the days of 30C (90F) heat that followed the storm.
Staff Sgt Jason Randor, a military police officer with the Massachusetts National Guard, watched the rescue from another boat that was helping provide security for the search team. He heard jubilant yells from the firefighters when they realised someone alive was inside. Mr Martin emerged, wearing jeans and a shirt. "While they were putting him in the chopper, he asked if they could stop on the way at Taco Bell to get something to eat," Staff Sgt Randor said.Reuse content