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Rescuer becomes rescuee, fearing for family left behind

BATON ROUGE, La. — As the post-storm recovery continued here over the weekend, people from New Orleans began telling of their ordeal.

Among them was Edward Mixon of Chalmette, about 15 miles southeast of New Orleans on the Mississippi River. He was evacuated to Baton Rouge to receive emergency treatment, leaving his wife, children and mother behind.

Mixon and his family were staying in the Chalmette Ward meeting house when the storm hit. After the storm, they were ready to leave, but then the water began flowing. As the water rose higher, they moved to the second floor. He used a 2-by-4 to break a ventilator shaft so everyone could climb onto the roof.

They waited there for an hour until a policeman or a firefighter came past in a boat, distributing water. The officer didn't have room for them all in the boat, but he gave Mixon a ride to a 25-foot boat and turned it over to him.

Mixon used the boat to transport a group of eight to a shelter at the nearby Araby School. Then he began rescue operations. Police had opened up stores to those with boats, and he loaded up with supplies, water, soft drinks, canned food — even dog food.

"I would get them off the roof, give them supplies, bring them to the Chalmette slip. I dropped a few off at Chalmette High School — wherever there was a shelter near where I was," he said. "I had to make sure we had water, food and canned goods."

Mixon estimated he rescued about 30 people. Among them were two elderly people who were near death. When a military boat stopped, its occupants declined to take them, so Mixon and his wife, Karen, and other family members held the boat until the old people were brought down and put into it.

"There were bodies floating in the street, snakes and raccoons swimming. People on the balconies were yelling for help," he said. "There is a smell of death in the air. I am not going back there to live."

At the Araby School shelter on Friday, Mixon opened a window for ventilation and the glass broke, slicing tendons and an artery in his left arm. He was bleeding so badly that he was taken by helicopter to three or four shelters, but no one could do the surgery, so he was flown to LSU Medical Center. There, two surgeons performed emergency surgery.

Afterward, Mixon came to the Baton Rouge stake center, which had been turned into a shelter. But he left his family at the Araby School shelter and is sick with worry about them.

"I am not worried about myself, he said, "but I am worried about my wife and daughter."


E-mail: jhart@desnews.com