By MARY FOSTER Associated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS- These were the cops who stayed. The ones who waded through the murky waters that filled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The ones who pulled people from attics and off rooftops, comforted them and brought them to safety.
On Wednesday, the New Orleans Police Department honored the officers who rescued victims of the Aug. 29 storm.
"For the first three days after Hurricane Katrina, the police department saved thousands of lives," Superintendent Warren Riley told over 400 officers awarded special Hurricane Katrina pins.
It took 80 hours after the storm to restore police communications, Riley said. Floodwater did not recede for 14 days, and electricity was not restored until 17 days after the storm.
"There is no law enforcement agency in this country that's been tried and tested like this department," Riley said.
Media attention immediately after the hurricane focused on the officers who could not be accounted for. Since then, the department has held 130 hearings involving the AWOL officers. Of those, 115 were found to be gone from their assignments without authorization, said Capt. Marlon Defillo of Internal Affairs.
Of that 115, 17 officers were dismissed. The rest were suspended between 30 and 95 days. Another 71 officers never returned to duty after the storm, Defillo said, and 50 others did not have hearings because they resigned, retired or were dismissed before their hearings.
"For any human being fear is often of the unknown," Riley said. "As horrible as the situation was, we also faced plenty of unknown, but 91 percent of our officers stayed."
The small round pin the officers were awarded shows a hurricane over a star, with New Orleans Police at the top and Katrina 2005 at the bottom.
Sgt. Claude Flot Jr., a 28-year veteran, proudly showed off his gold pin Wednesday. He road out the storm at Methodist Hospital and ended up stranded there with 19 other officers and about 700 people, including some seriously ill patients.
"It was like watching an aquarium fill," Flot remembered. "You could see 6 feet of water rising out the doors, then it started seeping in."
Officers moved people to higher floors in the hospital, took turns working the ventilators for patients when the electricity went off, and maintained order.
Flot said he cleared room on the roof for a helicopter landing pad and finally got the choppers to put down so they could start evacuating people. When that was done, he began going after those stranded elsewhere in the floods.
"I learned to drive a bus in a two-minute lesson," Flot said. "Then I started driving to the Ninth Ward going as far in as I could and hauling people out."