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Last Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005, 01:30 GMT 02:30 UK
Britons holding out in city they call home
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, New Orleans

Families are still desperately awaiting news of Britons still missing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But in New Orleans, BBC News found British expats determined to stay in the city they now call home.

John Hyman

John Hyman is the last holdout on his block.

Sitting on the steps of his house in the French Quarter, the former London solicitor says he has no reason to go.

The historic area where he lives is in the centre of the city, but escaped the worst of the flooding.

Mr Hyman's telephone still works, the water came back on Thursday morning and he has enough tinned food and water to last for weeks.

"There is a bar down the road which has just reopened - that has become the community centre for the last of us who just don't want to go," he says.

"But the mayor says we will be forced out."

Pressure to leave

As Mr Hyman speaks, a convoy of police vehicles drives down the street.

The hurricane was spectacular, a force of nature, but I was not scared
John Hyman

Officers stop and tell him: "If you need any help with evacuation, then we are here - put a sign outside your door."

He shrugs them off, but later says he feels the pressure stepping up on him to quit the neighbourhood he has lived in for 30 years.

Now semi-retired, Mr Hyman was still running a small real estate business in the city before the storm.

But he grew up in Wembley Park in north-west London and worked in Hampstead until the age of 35 when he moved to New Orleans after a visit to the Mardi Gras carnival.

Hunkered down

Eleven days ago, he was hunkered down on his porch, watching in amazement as a towering television aerial in the distance was whipped from side-to-side in the winds.

"The hurricane was spectacular, a force of nature, but I was not scared. I just watched the horizontal sheets of rain lashing the street - it was only after the levees burst that the situation became a disaster.

"But there's a reason they built the first houses here, it is on the highest ground of the city. That is why it seems crazy to force us out."

Like many choosing to remain in the city, he is scathing about the response of the federal government.

"There was no real security until Thursday of last week. The local police did their best, but they were overwhelmed," he said.

'Complete chaos'

Darryl Hill, a former British Army soldier turned hotel manager, has stayed in town to protect his company's assets.

I never thought about leaving but it has been an extremely dangerous time - especially in the early days
Darryl Hill

He told the BBC: "In the beginning it was complete chaos, mayhem and lawlessness. It was a case of keep yourself alive, and keep those around you alive."

Mr Hill, who grew up in Arbroath, Scotland, sports a New Orleans Police Department T-shirt, and says he has been deputised by the force.

Officers are now staying at the hotel Mr Hill is protecting.

"It helps me move around without being challenged. I never thought about leaving but it has been an extremely dangerous time - especially in the early days. But I have a job to do, and I will do it."

Meanwhile, concerns continue to grow for Britons still unaccounted for.

John Hyman
Mr Hyman stocked up on canned food and bottled water

British consular staff have been despatched to last known addresses, "trudging through sludge to locate people", according to the Foreign Office.

They are also in contact with families in Britain for updates on the search.

Among those missing is Mike Noone, a British space scientist who has not been in contact with his family for more than three weeks.

Officials have expressed anger that their bid to track the missing was obstructed after they were denied access to the New Orleans Superdome.

Britons were among thousands awaiting evacuation who had been corralled in the building in the first few days after the hurricane struck.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tony Blair defended his government's diplomats against accusations they had not done enough to help Britons trapped in New Orleans.

"I'm really sorry if there have been difficulties about this," he said on Monday.

"But I can assure you some of these staff have been working around the clock, and because it's a very difficult and confused situation, it's been difficult for them."


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