Front Line Reports from Hurricane Ground Zero
with Jeff Chudwin
THURSDAY, 09.08.05: P-1 Member special report from hurricane ground zero
PoliceOne member Chief Jeff Chudwin of Olympia Fields (IL) PD has been dispatched as part of a team of Illinois-based first responders to the epicenter of Hurricane Katrina. Their mission is to aid in rescue, recovery and clean-up efforts. Jeff shares first-hand accounts of his team's monumental challenges and poignant experiences in frequent reports from the field. PoliceOne received the following message the evening of Thursday, September 08, 2005:
I will try to put into words that which is so difficult to explain or describe due in large part to the enormity of this event.
I am privileged to serve as a member of Task Force Illinois. We number over 150 officers from the Illinois State Police and many other agencies throughout Illinois. It was a battle to get a slot to join the Task Force as hundreds of officers wanted to be included. Our Task Force is commanded by Illinois State Police Troops...Captain Rob Haley, Lt. Todd Kilby, Master Sgt, Jeff Regan and all are outstanding leaders.
We are members of the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System; formed statewide after the September 11th Attack. Led by President Gary Stryker (Under Sheriff Lake County) and Exec. Dir. Jim Page (ret.Assist. Chief Urbana IL P.D.)
We deployed from Springfield IL after receiving an EMAC request fro mutual aid from Louisiana on Friday, last.
We are in the thick of the effort to aid in the recovery of New Orleans and have been here for 5 days.
Military and police units from around the country are here and the sights are amazing.
Helicopters are so numerous we no longer look up at the sound.
We have traveled and worked non-stop.
Four hours sleep is normal. I do not know what day it is and have no need to know other than being curious. We have no TV or newspapers at hand and are too tired to get to them.
The issues are beyond imagination. The city and the Gulf Coast have been devastated.
Many teams are working with utility company personnel to get power restored. They must guard the effort as there are definitely some dangers lurking. We are also assisting with site security and transportation security. I see only my small view of the big picture.
My team, Team F, comprised of 7 officers is part of the city wide clearing operation.
The city has been ordered evacuated, closed, and sealed. This is a big city and the task in enormous. It is also surreal to look down major thoroughfares and all is abandoned of human life.
Our team rescued or relieved from their homes 15 people today. Additional the day previous.
We are but one of many teams operating on land and water.
The dead are numerous and the recovery work will be difficult.
The oldest we took out today was a 92 yr old man. He was in good shape considering what he had been through, but not for long.
Those without money, family, or resources are the last left. It is now a dead city. And if they do not leave, they too will perish.
Their ability to think clearly is waning. It takes time and we are mostly successful. We do not forcibly take them. Those who refuse...we ask only that they place identification on their person so they can be identified. We could not get through to a man and his wife yesterday. We walked away discussing how long they could endure. The inside of their home was an oven-like temperature. We gave them each a cold bottle of water and noted the address and names.
We look imposing in all our gear but we smile and give them cold water and tell them the truth. We are here to help and only seek safety and comfort for them.
News media is all around us and we work hard to prove we are here to help, knowing our words and conduct are before the world watching. The news folks seemed equally shocked by what they see. We have seen many good men and women print and media journalists and only had one bad experience with one who chose to interrupt some dangerous work by forcing himself into our immediate (one step away from our gun barrels) area of operation so he could get the "shot". I firmly advised him that this was not an event designed for his entertainment. Enough said...he moved on as we were in no mood to be trifled with.
We are led by a Louisiana State Police Officer and we were sworn in as Special Louisiana State Police Officers. Our Trooper (Wolfe) is great. He has had no electricity at his home since the storm. He and the other LA Troops soldier on daily regardless, as do the New Orleans officers and all others in the area. A Sgt. I saw tonight had worked thirteen consecutive 12-hour shifts. Our men from the Dept. of Natural Resources took Troopers to their flooded homes to recover anything they could. They were very grateful.
They have little clothing. Today I asked a Sgt. what he had for pants and he had one pair. I gave him my other pair of BDU's I had in the car. He was appreciative but I felt it was very little to do. I have many pants, he has one pair....pretty easy to figure out. I certainly am not alone as we all are doing what we can to help our Brothers and Sisters in Law Enforcement as well as all others. We put ourselves in their shoes and ask if others would come to our aid if we fell to such a calamity.
Life that seems so certain and sure is an illusion. They found this out. We must learn and prepare.
The pet issue is terrible as many have been left locked in homes with our food or water. Seems inconsequential to some, given the loss of humanity, but it is not when you are there dealing with it.
We talked an 85-plus-year-old woman from her home yesterday.
She had a pistol for protection and her two small dogs that are her life.
She could not take the dogs.
Her total possessions were a small handbag and a few papers.
We lifted her into the five-ton truck and looked at one another nodding silently with the understanding that she would not return. It was pitiful.
Leaving for many means never to return. It is all they have and now we as a nation must find the means to look after them. I fear that this will be old news too fast and they will be forgotten.
I met a great lady while in a flooded part of the City, Sister Desiree Watson-Jones who ministers to her Church in the area we were clearing today. Her ministry is an African American Mission, The Reach-Out Laboring Ministry, of 4458 Jefferson Highway, Jefferson LA. (504-818-0555). She and her escort were in the dangerous area bringing food, water, and ice to the last hold outs or those too weak or lame to move. I thanked her and she hugged me and thanked all of us. I realize that the best way to help now is to get money to folks like her who know directly who is in need.
The issue of pets...I located the SPCA animal convoy and made them promise to go back to the elderly lady's home and get the dogs and a puppy from another neighbor's porch and dogs in yards we passed.
We went back at the end of the day to check and they had done so.
A small victory against the tide of death.
It is emotional and the folks here that have lost so much have treated us like their family.
A group of three good citizens of Kentucky drove 13 hours today to grill us hamburgers and feed us tonight. The MRE's are good but the grill was great. As we ate we congratulated Corporal Scott Morgan of the Oylmpia Fields Police Dept., one of my great officers, on celebrating his 41st birthday today...one he will not forget. His work saved a 92-year-old man from certain death.
We offered the Kentucky crew floor space to sleep on with us.
This much is clear; we as Americans take care of those in need worldwide. Americans will now take care of their own and what has been lost will be borne up again by the might of our nation and the fraternity of our people. Our fellow Americans have suffered a terrible loss but they will endure and overcome with our support and assistance.
We look to find others to bring out tomorrow and the result is worth all risk, effort, and expense.
We all miss our families, but many here cannot locate their families. Our inconvenience cannot be measured against their loss.
Say a prayer for these fine people of the South who have lost so much.
God bless and keep safe.
Chief Jeff Chudwin
Olympia Fields (IL) PD
Hurricane Help & Information Center
Read the rest of Chief Chudwin’s front line reports