An emergency response team was dispatched by Sheriff Michael Bouchard of Oakland County on September 1, four days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. Being a deputy, I was advised at 4:00 p.m. that we would be leaving at 7:00 p.m. and driving straight through to the Jefferson Parish section of New Orleans. Law enforcement in that area was in need of assistance for curfew and looting violations.
Our trip included a stop in Birmingham, Alabama to pick up another group of Sheriff Deputies. We arrived late on Friday, September 2.
When we arrived we were greeted by law enforcement so happy to see us that they cried and hugged us. Their homes had been destroyed and their families evacuated and they were working sixteen to eighteen hours shifts. A truck stop had been turned into headquarters, where we often slept right on the black top parking lot. The temperature was in the 90’s every day with the humidity just as high. Bottled water and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat, standard military rations) were provided. For the first three days, there were no showers.
Our group of deputies put in twelve hour shifts, with mine being 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. It was often difficult to sleep during the day because of the heat, but also because of the anticipation of wanting to do more to help.
My first day will remain in my memory forever. It was filled with sights of total destruction, terrible smells, and looting. There were moments of concern such as when looters had taken all the guns from a Wal-Mart. This same store had given away emergency necessities such as clean underwear, socks, soap, and toothpaste. Such was the story of most businesses, looted of any goods that were needed.
Each day of our nine day stay I started with prayer for our group and all those who were helping. I assisted a number of them who were having a hard time with the sights and smells. My partner was a 26-year-old deputy whose home had been badly damaged. We worked in the Jefferson Parish where we arrested more than twelve people for looting. There were very intense moments when were concerned for our lives as well as the lives of others. We went into the French Quarter, near the Dome, and the Convention Center where the odors were terrible. We saw bodies of those who had died as well as all kinds of animals, both wild and family pets. Telephone poles were down for miles, and buildings destroyed beyond repair. Everywhere you looked, there was destruction.
I had witnessed such destruction in New York City on September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers were destroyed, but found the destruction of Hurricane Katrina much worse. The damage was more widespread than New York. New Orleans looked like a war zone, reminding me of being in Vietnam.
I will never forget the people I worked with, and how grateful they were for our assistance. I will never forget the terrible smell of gas, chemicals, decayed animals, and humans. As a part of the Oakland County Emergency Response Team, I consider it a real honor to be able to assist in these types of emergencies.