[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/29/art.katrina.rolands2.jpg caption="CNN's Ted Rolands on assignment in New Orleans"]
About a week after the hurricane, we did a story on 911 operators in Biloxi, Mississippi, who had to tell people calling for help there was nothing that could be done.
Listening to a recording of some of those conversations is something I'll never forget; one call in particular.
The calls had been recorded on an old reel to reel machine, Cheri Hovecamp the 911 supervisor went through some of the tapes with us. The operators were getting flooded with desperate callers asking to be saved.
"Go to the roof" they'd say, "give me your address and we'll come get you as soon as the storm dies down"
For hours operators listened to plea after plea. "Can't you send a boat?", asked one man who said his family was on top of an SUV in his garage with the water still rising. "You have to save us" screamed a women who said she had four children. Some callers, realizing they couldn't be saved, gave the names of their next of kin asking operators to pass along thier "good-byes".
We listened to call after call, hearing the desperation and fear in the voices and the anger as operators had to say no.
Then came the call I'll never forget.
The high pitched voice was saying something about water, but because of a bad cell phone connection it was hard to know exactly what the caller was trying to say. "Ma'am we can't send anyone right now we're in the middle of a Hurricane" said the dispatcher, "do what you have to do to save your life".
Then the high-pitched voice started to clear up, and we realized it was a child.
Here is a partial transcript of that call which I have saved:
Dispatcher: "Where are your parents?... What's your name?"
Dispatcher: "Eric... can you hear me?"
Caller: "come get me now"
Dispatcher: "there is no one to come get you... Eric can you hear me? Do you understand?"
Dispatcher: "we can't come get you.. Can you hear me?"
Dispatcher: "Eric can you hear me.. You have to do whatever it takes to save your own life"
Caller: "you come get me now"
Dispatcher: "we can't come get you until after the storm.
Dispatcher: "we can't come get you.. Eric can you hear me? "
Caller: "you come get me now!!"
Whatever that little boy could hear or understand to that point I don't know, but it was clear in his voice when he heard "no" he knew. Imagining what he must of felt is something I'll never forget.
Everyone in the room, myself, a CNN photographer, and two dispatchers were crying.
Because of the poor reception of the call the dispatcher couldn't get an address or even a last name from the child, they don't know if he survived.
Rescue crews had been pulled off the streets, the winds and water surge were too dangerous to attempt rescues. Many of the callers ended up dying.
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