NEW ORLEANS – When night falls, Charlie Hackett climbs the steps to his boarded-up window, takes down the plywood, grabs his 12-gauge shotgun and waits. He is waiting for looters and troublemakers, for anyone thinking his neighborhood has been abandoned like so many others across the city.
Two doors down, John Carolan is doing the same on his screened-in porch, pistol by his side. They are not about to give up their homes to the lawlessness that has engulfed New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"We kind of together decided we would defend what we have here and we would stay up and defend the neighborhood," says Hackett, an Army veteran with a snow-white beard and a business installing custom kitchens.
"I don't want to kill anybody," he says, "but I'd sure like to scare 'em."
With generators giving them power, food to last for weeks and several guns each for protection, the men are two of a scattered community holed up across the residential streets of the city's Garden District (search), a lush neighborhood with many antebellum mansions.
The streets, where towering live oaks once offered cool shade, are now often impassable because of huge fallen branches and downed power lines. Lovely porches framed in wrought iron lay smashed. Many of the homes appear only slightly damaged, or even untouched.
But the neighborhoods are stunningly empty, and so quiet that they sound like a forest.
It is a short drive but a world away from the city's downtown, where tens of thousands of hungry, thirsty and increasingly angry people waited in misery at the Superdome (search) and the New Orleans Convention Center (search) before evacuations finally began.
Here, Carolan starts his nightly watch by lighting a big fire in his barbecue pit. Hackett turns his lights on and jams a 15-foot wooden brace against the front door so no one can break through.
The night is "black, black, black," Hackett says. "It reminds me of when I was in Vietnam, it reminds me of Dac To."
They have not had a problem staying awake. Each night there are gunshots in the distance, sometimes people walking through, an occasional car driving by.
"Last night I had to draw down on some people," Carolan says. A car with what sounded like a crowd of drunken, partying kids came through and stopped.
"I had to come out with a flashlight in one hand, pistol in the other," he says, crossing his arms like an X. "I said: 'Who are you? Do you live here? What are you doing here?' They said, 'We're leaving.'"
Hackett, who in his 50s, lives alone, with his two cats and a bunch of neighbor's pets that he is caring for. Carolan, 46, is keeping watch with his brother, wife, son, and 3-year-old granddaughter.
In the first few days, they were especially fearful. Looters smashed windows and ransacked a discount store and a drugstore a few streets over. Three men came to Carolan's house asking about his generator and brandished a machete. He showed them his gun and they left.
"It was pandemonium for a couple of nights. We just felt that when they got done with the stores, they'd come to the homes," Hackett says. "When it's not easy pickings, they'll go somewhere else."
Things have gotten quieter, the men say, but not quiet.
"What do you say, I'm a survivor," John Carolan says with a laugh, thinking of the reality TV show. "Hey, give me the million bucks now."
How long can Carolan and the others hold out?
Hackett has enough gas and food for a month. Carolan says they have weeks' worth of food and bug repellent, and he will siphon gas from left-behind cars to keep his electricity going.
"Everything we have is in our homes. With the lawlessness in this town, are you going to walk away from everything you built?" Carolan says. "A lot of people think we're stupid. They say, 'Why did you stay?' I say, 'Why didn't you stay?'"