Front Line Reports from Hurricane Ground Zero
with Jeff Chudwin
SATURDAY, 09.17.05: P-1 Member special report from hurricane ground zero
|Chudwin (right) at work near the marina|
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 on Saturday, September 17, 2005:
Team F completed our final mission today working with Troop L of the Louisiana State Police. We traveled with our brothers from two other teams to the northeastern side of Lake Ponchatrain in the area of Sidel. The Troop is located just off Hwy 12 at mile marker 63. The Lt. in charge briefed us, issued their newest Motorola radios (unissued to their own Troops) and set us on our own to patrol the interstate and surrounding rounds. We covered an area of forty plus miles. The weather today was brutal and this is forecast for the coming week. In Chicago when the heat index hovers around 100 we complain. This is like nothing we have seen. It is a wet blast furnace. During the mission an 'officer down' call was heard. Troops immediately responded, searching for the location of the Trooper in obvious distress. He was located and Lt. Jim Hartman of the Naperville P.D. and Tac Commander related to us later that the Trooper had fallen to heat prostration. Heat is the greatest enemy and danger we face here, and the coming Illinois Task Force Troops have been warned and will continue to be warned. Heat danger is insidious and you are down before you realize the blow has been thrown. This can only be managed by prevention. Hydrate early, often and continuously. If you are not urinating often you know there is an issue. Color yellow is danger.
During our work we traveled South towards New Orleans on Hwy 10 to the point it was barricaded. At that location we were advised by Big Ed Mohn, NIPAS (SWAT) Entry Team Leader that they had been in the area last night, and that there was a calamity beyond anything we had seen at a marina. We looked for and found the location: Oak Harbor. We have seen so much loss that we thought: How much worse can we see?
As we drove into this up scale development I was awed by the huge mountains of rubble...and boats and ships and pontoons scattered across dry land, far from the water. We met residents who said that a wall of water over 20 feet high struck the area. I will send the photos as words do not meet the need of explanation.
Another State Police Lt. who assisted us in finding the area told us he grew up in the area and was left in disbelief by the damage. It gets worse the closer one comes to the waters east of New Orleans. This is where the eye of the hurricane came to land.
We completed our mission and returned to our quarters. Each of us is very much ready to return home. The second contingent of our task force arrived today. They were briefed in by mission commander Lt. Todd Kilby, Ill. State Police, and his staff and sworn in as we were. We have information to pass along and are leaving them with as much of our food, drink, gear and thoughts as we can. I did an overview on use of force issues as I had done for our group. This is a vital issue and officers must know the rules and laws of this state. Louisiana is little different than Illinois as to use of force issues, and we have trained in these matters each year for many years. The officers understand the need to be fully informed. To quote the late great science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, we are "Strangers in a Strange Land." Yet it is a very friendly and thankful place. Still, we are unknown and must prove our worth. I believe we have done so and those coming next will do the same.
We cautioned all that there are hazards both seen and unseen. Attention to detail and focus is required; ever vigilant, ever cautious, nothing good happens fast.
We were told today that several responders (not from our group) had come down with infections after searching for the lost in wrecked homes that were full of mold. Reportedly, they had not worn respiratory protection. If this is the case, as I did not see this personally, it is a lesson to all.
This week starts the repopulation of areas of New Orleans. Some areas are in good shape; many others a horror. When people return, their stress level will be very high; increasing as they face their losses. So, too, will the predators return as they always do. This is a volatile combination and requires sound planning, judgment and practices by police and the military.
When the military ends their mission and turns full control to civilian law enforcement will be a key test. With thousands of troops patrolling and manning checkpoints, police have been able to focus on other needed actions. Without the troops, all the weight falls on the police, a very heavy burden as the number of law enforcers is limited.
If top officials plan well, the repopulation may be successfully achieved. Time will tell.
Team F led by Team Leader John Konopek of Plainfield P.D., Assistant Team Leader Don Barber and Officer Bob St. Louis of Bradley P.D., Commander Ray Fairfield of Kankakee County Sheriff, Officer Dave Macaluso of Lincolnwood P.D., Officer Barry Churin of Palos Park P.D., Cpl. Scott Morgan and myself of Olympia Fields P.D. will depart the University where we have been treated with the greatest kindness. We met as brother law enforcement officers and formed a team. Through long days and nights we have labored together, shared the danger and boredom, and now are brothers as close as family. We are bonded to one another for life by this trial and we will hold true to one another.
Should the next challenge require it, Team F, our brother teams of Illinois Task Force and I stand ready to respond.
God Bless you all and keep close in your thoughts and prayers those who come now and those who remain here to carry on this great effort.
Chief Jeff Chudwin
Olympia Fields (IL) PD
Hurricane Help & Information Center
Read the rest of Chief Chudwin’s front line reports