According to Shots at helicopters shrouded in a 'fog', the official word from the Air Force, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and Louisiana Air National Guard is that they haven't been able to confirm any incidents of shots being fired at helicopters. The same goes for "members of several rescue crews who were told to halt operations".
The storm created so much confusion that government officials cannot even agree on whether they ever issued an order to halt flights or other rescue efforts...
On the morning of Sept. 1, Mike Sonnier was directing rescue helicopters at his company, Acadian Ambulance, when one of his pilots called to say the military had suspended flights after gunfire was reported in the air near the Louisiana Superdome.
[He shut down flights...] Sonnier said that when he checked with the National Guard about two hours later, he was told it was OK to fly. At that point Acadian resumed operations. Even today, it's not clear whether a military order to stop flying was ever actually made.
Then, they include a USCG quote reprinted in "Sep 1: Charity, University hospitals situation" and say this:
...But that initial report proved hard to confirm. Two Coast Guard spokesmen who were asked in recent days about helicopter shootings said there were no incidents of any Coast Guard personnel or vehicles taking fire.
That's a bit at odds with the previous link.
''We don't know of any shots ever fired directly at us,'' said Capt. Bob Mueller, commander of the Guard's New Orleans station. "But there were a number of reports of shots fired in the air. There were two occasions where all helos were directed to land. I believe those orders came from the Superdome. Our flatboats did stand down Sept. 1.''
Lt. Pete Schneider, a spokesman for the National Guard, which was handling Superdome evacuations, said it was a civilian who told guardsmen in the area that shots had been fired. Schneider said flights continued despite the danger...
But a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, contradicted that statement, saying Superdome flights were temporarily suspended because of gunfire.
The confusion affected more than just helicopter crews. Florida Task Force 1 was using boats to reach the stranded but not on Sept. 1.
Because of reports of gunfire, a FEMA support team ordered the Florida task force to stop work for the entire day unless law enforcement protection could be found, task force leader Dave Downey said.
That help never came. Meanwhile, thousands of people were stuck in attics and on roofs of flooded houses in New Orleans.
''We had just had a very successful day before,'' when they rescued 400 people, said Downey, whose crew manned boats. "It definitely slowed down our rescue efforts . . .
...FEMA sent mixed messages in recent days on whether rescue efforts were placed on hold.
''If, on the ground, if they were in middle of a search and they were being shot at, for safety reasons, they may have temporarily put that search on hold,'' said Deborah Wing, a FEMA spokeswoman in Washington.
Later, she said by e-mail that no operations were ever suspended, despite "reports of gunfire.''
Some who were in New Orleans that day described moments of real peril. Tyler Curiel, a cancer doctor at Tulane University Hospital, said a sniper shot at him and his military escorts in the street as they evacuated patients from Tulane and Charity hospitals.
Curiel said the gunman was in a nearby parking deck shooting at Charity's emergency room about noon Sept. 1.
One month later, Downey, of Florida Task Force 1, isn't sure the decision to halt operations was the right one...