10 years after Katrina, operators remember agonizing 911 calls

NEW ORLEANS -- This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of Katrina. For many who survived the ordeal, the visuals of that day are etched in their memory. But for the operators who fielded 911 calls, it's the sound of fear turning into panic that has been impossible to forget.

CBS News has obtained never-before-heard calls made after the levees failed. One call from 2544 Dubreuil Street came from a 37-year-old woman trapped in her attic.

Paula Massey CBS News

Operator Paula Massey answered the call, only to inform the caller that police couldn't reach her because winds and water were too dangerous to send emergency crews.

"No the police is not coming out until the weather conditions get better," said Massey on the call.

"So I'm gonna die?" answered the caller. "The water is steady rising in the attic ma'am, and I'm gonna drown in the attic. I'm 37 years old."

Massey, now retired, still lives in New Orleans. She says listening to the call is difficult.

"It's hard," she said. "And it bring backs memories. It was nothing that I can do to help the lady get out of her attic."

Massey wondered what happened to that 37-year-old woman in the attic. CBS News found out she's alive, living in Texas.

"That's wonderful to know," said Massey with a sigh of relief.

Massey's story is one of many that took place during the height of Katrina. Operator Tina Berry Doyle spent 12 hours on the phone that night.

Tina Berry Doyle CBS News

"Could you imagine getting a call where someone is saying that they're trapped, there's no way out, and just stay on the phone with me because I know this is it?" said Doyle. "You have to stay strong for them while you're on the line."

Doyle remembers receiving one call about a house that was floating down the street.

"I prayed for them and myself while I talked to them," Doyle said, holding back tears.

To hear the calls and the stories from dispatchers, watch the video at the top of this page.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.