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 Friday, September 9, 2005:
We returned from another day in the city. We just went to the college cafeteria and had some good food and I am now really tired.
All remaining in the city that I saw was military and police and lots and lots of the two.
What comes next as they rebuild I wonder.
We drove through four feet of the rank nasty water in the city streets in our military five ton transport truck.
We winded a slow path through neighborhoods under water.
It was a smelly rotten mess and I put on my N-95 mask.
What can be done with thousands of homes where putrid, fetid water and garbage inundate the structure and foundation? Can it be cleaned or is it all a haz-mat site of the largest scale one can imagine?
There is garbage and refuse EVERYWHERE in the town. Not picked up and added to by the storm, it is a mess.
Will these flooded parts of the city survive or be bulldozed and razed. Some of the homes are very nice and if lost will take a large part of the history of the town.
We worked along historic and beautiful St. Charles street today and had lunch, MRE's on the porch of an old historical hotel. Forgot to write the name down. It is an old beautiful two-story. We looked inside the front door and there was an old time wooden carving of an American Indian and I wanted to go inside and tour this fine old home. Not to be, as it was locked. Across the street was a beautiful stone mansion. We do NOT destroy anything and we collect our refuse. We have been ordered to mark buildings and homes as they are searched with fluorescent paint. I told my teammates I felt like a vandal so we started to do so on the steps instead of the wall. It is necessary but still, it seems so unnatural to spray paint on someone's home.
Still, in all the mess and stink, the basic greatness and history of the town is still here.
It is run down in places (really so in some areas) but it has a feel of old friends and neighbors. They might not have much by our standards but they have the most important thing, basic human decency. Yes, there are some bad people here, so they are in all our towns. Again I tell you that all we have met have been as kind and gentle as you can be.
As we moved through the city in search of those few remaining, the ISP Troops found a double amputee locked in his home and from what he told me, abandoned but his nephew. Whether abandoned or not, he needed us badly. So again, the unfortunate are there. We cannot have found them all and the clock is ticking.
The challenge I see is not only rebuilding, but when ready to accept citizens back, the turmoil of the return. We will be back with them unless things are well controlled. If not, it has the possibility of looking like the 1800's Land Rush. I may be wrong but I think when all are told to return, they will do so at great speed and want to get in NOW. Those remaining and packing to leave said as much to me and the team.
That is a long time away from what I see and hear and I am sure by then, the government will have a plan. They better.
So we continue to do what we can and will be on post again tomorrow. I am tired and so are my brothers in the task force. Sleep is hard to come by and restful sleep even more so. We sleep in large communal rooms we commandeered with the permission of the school. We have it great as compared to other places. We hear from our friends with the Kentucky State Police that part of their troop is in Mississippi. They say it is a huge mess and they are in difficult conditions. We are out of the weather and have air conditioning and sleep areas, not tents. We came prepared to sleep in tents in parking lots and are very fortunate.
I am attaching a few photos of us on search and rescue patrol.
We have a very large number of pictures and video among us and will get it together for all to see.
I was contacted and asked to be on Rita Crosby's show on MSNBC. I told the producer that I alone would not do it as this is a team effort. It may happen that they come with us on our work on Sunday.
If so, I will let you know. I and my teammates hesitate to be in the lime light as the real people who deserve recognition are those men and women who have lived, endured, and held their posts during this calamity...not some friends who happen to show up for a short time. We do want the real message that we see to go out to the nation and if we must be the vehicle so be it...but still I told the good lady who called (and happen to have grown up in the city and I told her just where we were and what it looked like) that I was uncomfortable doing so.
For now I take leave and thank you all for your kind words of encouragement and support. I know you all want to be here. We want to be home with you, but first let us finish our work and return having served as honorably as we can.
Be proud of your men from Illinois, they are doing the good work.