Photo by Marisa Buchanan, NBC News
When I first heard this story, I thought it had to be an urban legend, but yesterday in Pass Christian, Miss., when police chief John Dubuisson showed me the bullet holes I knew it was true. On the day Katrina hit the chief and several officers went off to rescue some folks trapped by rising water. They got everyone out only to be cut off themselves by the storm surge.
The group sought shelter in the town's library. It's up on higher ground and in the shadow of city hall. As the streets outside raged like mountain rapids, they felt safe in the recently renovated structure. But that's when the flaw to their plan started to seep in.
Chief Dubuisson says once the water outside got to about the four foot mark their police cars started floating around. If one of them should hit the front doors, they'd no doubt cave in, bringing a huge torrent of water with them. Everyone inside the single story building would drown. Sure enough, minutes later another cop car with its flashing lights still on smashed into the doors. The water burst in as people scrambled onto shelves, desks and counter tops to escape it.
Photo: Marisa Buchanan, NBC News
They knew they had no way to punch a hole in the roof. So they decided to shoot out the library's back windows. At least two officers pointed their weapons and let loose a hail of 45-caliber slugs. They blasted into the glass and tore through the back door frame. When the building was renovated, the glass in it was upgraded to a type that could withstand A category 3 hurricane. A great idea then, but the cops were cursing it now. When the shooting stopped, the glass was all shattered, but none of the bullets had gone through!
The water was still rising... Chief Dubuisson dove in and swam to the rear doors that had to be opened. And as soon as he touched the push bar they did. The water surged out, taking him with it. Those who saw it thought the chief was a goner, drowned or crushed by debris. But apparently the chief had been to that library a time or two before. You see, he knew just beyond the back doors was a railing. And that's what he grabbed as the storm surge carried him off.
Eventually, all inside the library made it outside and rode out the rest of the storm on the roof. But few will ever forget the day in Pass Christian when the police shot up the library and the chief nearly got away.
Editor's note: The Pass Christian Police Department shared video with NBC News, shot by its officers as they rode out Katrina's rising waters inside the library. Click here to watch the video, which is about 3:30 long.