A New Orleans Native, Determined to Stay

Robert Siegel talks with Laurie Buford, a New Orleans native who is trying to stay in the city. She joins us from the working landline telephone at the sports bar Johnny White's, in the French Quarter.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now we're going to talk with a native of New Orleans who is still there and who's not going to leave: Laurie Buford(ph).

Ms. Buford, where are you right now?

Ms. LAURIE BUFORD (New Orleans Native): I'm at Johnny White's Sports Bar.

SIEGEL: Which is in what part of the city?

Ms. BUFORD: It's the heart of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street.

SIEGEL: The authorities are telling you now's the time to leave New Orleans, get out.

Ms. BUFORD: Uh-huh.

SIEGEL: And you are going to...

Ms. BUFORD: Stay.

SIEGEL: Why?

Ms. BUFORD: I have nowhere to go. My friends are here. We're all just going to tough it out together.

SIEGEL: Some of the warnings are: It's not safe, and the police will have to protect you rather than do other kinds of rescue work that they could do now.

Ms. BUFORD: The police are not protecting us. We're protecting each other. There are more here now than they were when it first happened, but we're more relying on each other than the police actually.

SIEGEL: Do you have electricity at home?

Ms. BUFORD: No, we have no electricity. Yesterday we got water back.

SIEGEL: And are you drinking that tap water or not?

Ms. BUFORD: No, we're not drinking that tap water. But we are taking showers.

SIEGEL: Are you just going to Johnny White's Sports Bar every day? Is that the routine?

Ms. BUFORD: Well, I stay above the bar that--the guy that owns this bar owns the bar where I live above, and we are kind of supplying the liquor over here, so I'm staying over there, making sure they get their liquor here.

SIEGEL: And in addition to liquor is there any food?

Ms. BUFORD: We have the military food and the police escorted me to Walgreens yesterday and said, `Take what you need.'

SIEGEL: You mean--`Take what you need'? You mean, were they just telling you to take goods off the shelves or were there people selling them?

Ms. BUFORD: Take what you need. They said, `It's not like you're taking a Game Boy or a computer. You're taking supplies.' I took medical supplies; I took a bunch of Cokes and Gatorade.

SIEGEL: This was yesterday.

Ms. BUFORD: This was yesterday, yes.

SIEGEL: And how many of you are there who are congregating at the bar every day, intending to stay?

Ms. BUFORD: Right now about 18 of us inside, and about six or seven outside. It's pretty full here every day.

SIEGEL: And there are also some animals there I hear.

Ms. BUFORD: That's our dog Katrina. Somebody abandoned the dog the night of the storm so me and my roommate took her.

SIEGEL: You know, your friends--you could leave together and go someplace and be, you know, in Baton Rouge together right now, and you'd still...

Ms. BUFORD: We could, but we're not.

SIEGEL: You're just not going.

Ms. BUFORD: We just have too much here to look out for, and why are we not leaving? I don't know why we're not leaving. We're just not leaving.

SIEGEL: You just put that question to your friends there in the bar.

Ms. BUFORD: To another friend, yeah. Honestly, I'm not leaving because I need to find out--if I spoke with my father and I could find out where he was, I may--I would go to him, but other than that, I mean, I'm here.

SIEGEL: But if you went somewhere where there's electricity, for example, you could get on a computer, get online and look for, say, information about your father. You can't do that if you have no electricity.

Ms. BUFORD: I got people here that could do that.

SIEGEL: They could do that.

Ms. BUFORD: I mean, I got police friends and, I mean, I got people with computers.

SIEGEL: Doesn't it feel a little bit unsafe being among so few people in such a large city?

Ms. BUFORD: The only time it feels unsafe--at first it felt a little unsafe at night, but now there's like--they're enforcing the curfew--Katrina, shush, shush. Right now they're like heavily enforcing the curfew, so it's kind of even hard to get--you know, if they need beer here, it's hard for us to even go back to the other bar and get beer.

SIEGEL: But given what's happened to New Orleans, don't you have to start planning what you're going to do where next, what kind of work you'll do for whom?

Ms. BUFORD: I'm hoping the restaurant that I worked at just reopens. In the past few days, our mayor got on and kind of gave a speech like, `We need help,' and all of a sudden things started to happen. We have water now. There's troops cleaning up the trees that were all down, but it's going to take a long time for it to rebuild.

SIEGEL: But it--the mayor who said that on WWL in the interview and demanded more help--now he's saying, as is the police chief, everyone is saying, `Please leave the city. Everybody out.'

Ms. BUFORD: Well, unless he pulls us out by, you know, force, I guess, you know, we're not going.

SIEGEL: You feel that's where you belong.

Ms. BUFORD: Yeah. Everybody's helping everybody. You know, anybody needs any food, any water. I got to kind of cut this short 'cause this is a business phone, and...

SIEGEL: OK. Well, good luck to you.

Ms. BUFORD: OK. Well, if you're ever in New Orleans, come by the sports bar; we'll buy you a drink.

SIEGEL: That's Laurie Buford, speaking to us from Johnny White's Sports Bar in the French Quarter.

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