Robert Earl’s Patten Towers
I had just got home. I sat down and put my keys down, thinking about trying to cook something to eat. Turned the TV on. I sat down here for a minute, tired. The lights dimmed and came back on and I thought it was just a storm or something. But it kept doing it, then all of a sudden it got just like a disco in here and I was worried about my TV—I got a new flat screen. I was trying to turn it off, but I couldn’t.
Then the smoke alarms went off and stuff started getting real weird. All of a sudden the alarms stopped and all the lights went off. It got real quiet and it was pitch black. It was about ten-thirty at night. I looked out the window and all the other lights downtown were on and I said, “Uh-oh.” Then people started pounding on doors and yelling, “Evacuate! Evacuate!”
I have two flashlights I keep in a cabinet. I got them and went out the door. I went down the hall and looked down the stairwell. People was holding on to the rails, and it was pitch black dark and people was terrified, just holding on for dear life on those rails and going one step at a time, just terrified. It was like looking down in the pit of Hell.
I shone my flashlights down there and they all looked up—man, they were glad to see me. It was just black and all these people trying to find their way out. Some of them can’t even walk down stairs and were holding on to somebody else. When we got outside, I knew it was serious when about four fire trucks showed up. I was asking everybody what happened and nobody knew. People were saying there was a fire but I never saw it.
They had CARTA buses out there waiting. Somebody already had an evacuation plan with CARTA—the buses were already there. They had the plan with Brainerd Recreation Center, too, but we never knew about any of that. I went up to some guy that worked with CARTA—a Czech guy or something like that. He wasn’t the bus driver, just some guy in a CARTA shirt who was in charge. I asked him where we were going and he just got real smart with me.
I said, “I got a right to know where I’m going. I ain’t getting on a bus if I don’t know where it’s going.” That man from CARTA started getting real rude with me then. I can’t remember exactly what he said, something about it didn’t matter where I was going. And I said, “The hell it don’t. I need to know where I’m going.”
Then this cop sitting in his car out there jumped out and got rude with me, too. Like I wasn’t the one who just got burned out of his house with nothing but the clothes I had on. That cop told me “If you say anything else to that man or anybody else, you’ll go to jail.” I was just trying to ask the dude where the bus was going. Man, these cops in Chattanooga in need to learn the Constitution.
This ain’t the only time something like that happened. This lady was at the Motel 6 where they put us after a while. She was staying at the motel and she started getting sick. I wasn’t staying there then. I was staying at my girlfriend’s house when all of that was going on, but I’d go over there every now and then and check on some of my friends. This lady getting sick had COPD and she was standing there and couldn’t breathe. She was turning purple and gasping for breath and holding her chest. An ambulance showed up and the ambulance driver just acted like he didn’t give a damn.