Front Line Reports from Hurricane Ground Zero
with Jeff Chudwin
SATURDAY, 09.10.05: 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 Saturday, September 10, 2005:
My thoughts from another day in Louisiana:
For Team F, the day was spent doubled with a Louisiana State Police Trooper on patrol in the New Orleans City and surrounds.
As I have told of, there is vast military and police resources here and the city has been cleared nearly entirely.
More to do tomorrow as to search and rescue but the number of those found dwindles. An elderly woman rescued today and probably others I am not aware of.
I had the opportunity to go to the levy break today where the main thrust of water broke through. The levy has walls both east and west. The east side failed and flooded the eastern New Orleans area. The west side homes were not flooded and under water but as we drove past, nearly all homes had large amounts of carpet, furniture, and other items on the curb. Something had put water in the homes. A nearby drainage canal with large drain pipes running into it could have been the problem.
Many refrigerators thrown out. I had discussed this with the team and noted that all the food had rotted in the machines and likely they have to be discarded. If there are 100,000 homes and apartments in New Orleans, that is the minimum number of refrigerators that will have to be purchased, and this is just one grain of sand on this vast beach of misery.
My work today was done with Louisiana State Police Sgt. Kevin Baxter. A ten year veteran of the State Police, Sgt. Baxter was doing both admin duties and patrol work. He told of his initial response to the call for all hands to report to the area of the disaster. After arriving at a highway bridge where thousands took refuge, he stood to his duties for 23 hours before relief arrived. The citizens he was with were in the worst of conditions and the sun, heat, lack of water, food, and care took a terrible toll. People fell dead and no assistance could be given.
He told of working to get transportation to the needy and to clear them from this hell hole. Slowly things happened but the task of maintaining order and security was his and his Troopers and they accomplished their mission. He, like the other Troopers, toiled non-stop for days. Taking little rest, with minimal necessities to get by.
I can not say enough good things about the Louisiana State Police. We work out of Troop B in New Orleans proper. The Command staff pulled troops from all over the state to work in the City and surrounding parishes. All the Troops working from Troop (Station) B meet in the a.m and we establish our assignments. We are fed by wonderful people and supplies of all needs are available there. Sgt. Baxter is also a Nation Guard Major and his soldiers are deployed here. He was held to his Troop assignment and not released to the Guard...a wise move by the State Police as he is a top man and proved his value.
I also had the opportunity to speak with State Police Sgt. Steven McGovern. He, too, is doubling his work as admin. and street officer. Both the Sergeants are tired and look forward to a single day off in many to get back to their families.
There are stories of New Orleans Police officers who stood to their duties under incredible and desperate circumstances. We hear the stories of officers walking off the job and yet those who stayed to fight chaos and disorder have every right to be proud of their service and receive recognition.
We drove to the stricken areas and viewed them in awe. What a terrible stinking mess.
So we continue on. Each team, each state, adding something to the effort. At times it is slow, other times fast. Rhythm is not easy as there is an incredible process and amount of personnel to bring together.
We move to work rescue tomorrow with land and water units. The water is nasty and we will take precautions. For now the bad guys have faded and the cities in the area such as Baton Rouge are in for problems. We had a team working patrol with the Baton Rouge officers. They took several guns from bad guys in the first hours. The Baton Rouge guys said they are running non-stop.
Chicago P.D. SWAT, great guys and good friends have been in the thick of this effort. Commander Wayne Gulliford and his Sgt's and officers are a top crew. We bunk next to them and see that each other is provisioned and ready in the pre-dawn hours. We have moments of laughter and time of serious conversation as we brief each other on safety issues and threat locations.
There is not enough time to do all things we want as we are in constant motion and assignments take us away until the evening hours.
The Staff of Task Force Illinois has done a superior job of setting up scheduling and logistics.
We get our next-day assignments in the evening as a written order sheet. The team leaders then brief the team members as to the mission. If it is something we have not done previously, we seek out the teams who have and get information. Intelligence and analysis are the critical components that deliver success or by lack thereof, assure problems and dangers.
This is a VITAL lesson that has been present since man ventured forth to do battle. Action without goals is futile, action without planning is dangerous, and action without leadership is chaos. We all want to do something but without leadership, information, process, and goals, we expend energy to no avail.
I am proud to say that Task Force Illinois has great leadership, possesses the clearest of information and intelligence that is available, has a defined process, and has identified the goals of our mission.
As we move into Sunday, a day that for most Americans will be one of worship and relaxation, the men and women of law enforcement and all who are assisting in every capacity will go forward as we must. I pray the Good Lord accepts our need and guides our work.
It will be September 11th. It is a day that stands alone and apart from others. It is always with me and I shall not forget. As we work, I will remember the men and women police and firefighters, and the ordinary citizens who became extraordinary protectors who gave their lives in the service of their fellow Americans. I will remember those lost from the attack as they must be remembered.
Whether by enemy attack or force of nature we must stand ready to respond. We are doing so today and must do so tomorrow...and for the rest of our careers and lives. The war we fight is one that will continue to our upcoming generation. It is our obligation to train them so they will be ready. It is the work done after September 11th and the work done here in the South that proves the need and provides the direction.
It is an easy choice: do or die.
Chief Jeff Chudwin
Olympia Fields (IL) PD
Hurricane Help & Information Center
Read the rest of Chief Chudwin’s front line reports