Without ever leaving home, Gerald Martin lived out one of the most remarkable survival stories of Hurricane Katrina. Rescuers who found him Friday, as they searched his neighborhood 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, 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 neighborhoods of New Orleans, but not trapped survivors. The FEMA search-and-rescue boat navigating through the Eighth Ward didn't expect to find anyone alive at 6010 Painters St., but they planned to search the premises of a one-story wood 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 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, Martin — who ran out of his gallon-and-a-half water supply 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," Fernandez said. "He was very relieved. He was very thirsty. He was in good spirits."
Martin was given water to drink, then taken to Ochsner Foundation Hospital, where nurse Jinny Resor said he was treated for dehydration. She said Martin had taken medication while he was trapped, but she wasn't sure what it was for.