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December 16, 2008

Katrina & the Crescent City Connection Blockade

During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Gretna police prevented hundreds of people from crossing the Crescent City Connection. This made national news (e.g. 60 Minutes, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post) and sparked a grand jury investigation. Ultimately, no charges were filed, but several lawsuits were later filed against the City of Gretna.

WDSU reports that one of these suits was partially resolved in favor of the City of Gretna, and that the plaintiffs intend to appeal.

The Court's reasoning was as follows:
Defendants have demonstrated compelling safety and welfare reasons for refusing to allow plaintiffs to cross on foot the CCC.

It is undisputed that Hurricane Katrina caused a monumental crisis in the entire New Orleans area; that the aftermath of the storm led to widespread flooding and social unrest in the area; that the CCC was never open to foot traffic; that at the same time plaintiffs were attempting to walk across the CCC on foot, there was heavy vehicular traffic, including emergency vehicles, on the CCC to and from the east and west banks of the city; that there were hundreds of people without food or water attempting to cross the bridge; and that the City of Gretna had no food, water or shelter available for evacuees.

It is also undisputed that Alexander and Golden eventually obtained transportation out of the area; that at the same time plaintiffs were attempting to cross the CCC on foot, arrangements were being executed to provide them safe passage from the city; and that although Alexander was not allowed to proceed across the CCC on foot, buses were dispatched from the west bank to the east bank to pick up Alexander and her group, and then transport them over the CC to the west bank.

The evidence supports that had foot traffic been allowed on the CCC, the pedestrians would have been in the middle of heavy vehicular traffic, including law enforcement, speeding emergency vehicles, and vehicles with other evacuees. Further, the evidence demonstrates that in denying plaintiffs passage across the CCC on foot, law enforcement was attempting to preserve order and safety in the state of emergency created by Hurricane Katrina. Although plaintiffs were not allowed to cross the CCC how and when they wanted, it is undisputed that plaintiffs eventually were able to leave the area.
Alexander, et al v. City of Gretna, et al, Civil Action No. 06-5405 (Rec. Doc. 64, Ruling on Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, pp. 10-11) (E.D. La. 12/03/2008).

Interestingly, though much ado was made over the race issue in the news coverage, the court noted that "[t]here are no allegations of racial bias in plaintiffs' complaint." Id. at 7, n. 29.

In ruling in favor of the City of Gretna, the court relied upon Zemel v. Rusk, a Supreme Court case stating that the right to interstate travel “does not mean that areas ravaged by flood, fire or pestilence cannot be quarantined when it can be demonstrated that unlimited travel to the area would directly and materially interfere with the safety and welfare of the area.” Id. at 7, 10.

Noting that, best of luck to plaintiffs on their appeal. Posted by MBC at December 16, 2008 10:00 PM
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