Ribaul was among Gretna residents who praised the decision to close the bridge. "It makes you feel safe to live in a city like that," he said.
Critics suspect a racial motive for the blockade. City officials heatedly deny any such thing.
Among black residents of Gretna, some say that although they get along with most of their white neighbors, a few of the neighbors harbor strong prejudices.
Some black Gretna residents also speak fearfully of New Orleans. "We don't have as much killing over here as in New Orleans," said Leslie Anne Williams, 42.
Nonetheless, Williams' mother, a lifelong Gretna resident who is also black, disapproved of the Police Department's decision. People fleeing New Orleans "probably had a better chance of survival over here," said Laura Williams, 70, "especially with all that shooting" across the river.
When Katrina hit, about 5,000 of Gretna's residents were still in town. Police zigzagged the trim streets of ranch houses and older wooden buildings, checking on those who had not evacuated.
Like New Orleans, Gretna lost power and water. Town officials pleaded unsuccessfully for help from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Then they learned that New Orleans officials had told the thousands trapped in that city's downtown, similarly deprived of food and water but also dodging gunfights and rising floodwaters, to cross to Gretna.
Not sure how to feed even their own residents, Gretna officials were overwhelmed by New Orleans' evacuees. They organized bus caravans Aug. 31 to take the arrivals to Metairie, 16 miles away, where a food and water distribution center had been set up.
The evacuees waited for rides out of Gretna at the foot of the bridge, across the street from Oakwood Mall. As the hours ticked by and the crowd swelled, trouble began, Gretna authorities said.
Sometime on Wednesday, Aug. 31, a fire broke out in the mall, next to the local branch of the sheriff's office, and police chased suspected looters out of the building.
Mayor Harris had had enough. He called the state police.
"I said: 'There will be bloodshed on the west bank if this continues,' " Harris recalled. " 'This is not Gretna. I am not going to give up our community!' "
The following morning, Gretna's police chief made his decision: Seal the bridge.
The San Francisco paramedics said in an interview and in their article that there were gunshots over the heads of people crossing the bridge from New Orleans' convention center — many of them elderly — where they were stuck for days without food, water and working toilets.
Nagin, New Orleans' mayor, said that he'd heard similar reports about gunfire, as well as people being turned back by guard dogs.
Chief Lawson said that he was unaware of any of his officers shooting over the heads of evacuees on the bridge but said that one black officer did fire a shot overhead to quiet an unruly crowd waiting to board a bus.
Harris said Thursday that closing the bridge was a tough decision but that he felt it was right.
"We didn't even have enough food here to feed our own residents," Harris said. "We took care of our folks. It's something we had to do."http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-gretna16sep16,0,7154168,full.story?coll=la-home-headlines