WEDNESDAY, 09.14.05: 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 Wednesday, September 14, 2005:
Today was the toughest yet.
We have been working since our arrival and sleep is a commodity.
This morning we met Troopers David Flauss and Brett Lange. Both very good men who gave some insight into local issues as they are from this area. They both work boats and on the first night evacuated thousands of people non-stop. They have incredible stories.
They took us south of New Orleans to Saint Bernard Parish, one of the hardest struck areas.
As we arrived, check points manned by he military were present and we needed to show our new credentials.
The Parish has approx 100,000 residents if I heard correctly.
What happened is a storm surge of over thirty feet struck across the area from the marsh land. It was akin to a Tsunami. The water went over the homes and destroyed or damaged EVERYTHING.
Our mission was to forcibly enter homes if needed and search for the lost. Temperature today was mid to high 90s. The residue sludge and mud is inches deep and is like a lava flow of the worst possible stuff. Some has dried but the streets are filled with the wet stuff. We wore over boots to protect us but it is hot and miserable work. We used axes and pry bars to make entry only to find that the water sucked all furniture and items into the doors and windows as it receded. It was impossible in most cases to make entry.
This is a disaster beyond anything we had yet encountered. Thousands of homes are destroyed. Boats are on top of houses as are cars.
We worked in the intense heat and I made a very basic mistake. I failed to follow my good friend, Dr. Tony Barrera's orders to stay properly hydrated. Mid-afternoon, in my full gear and respirator, I did not keep up with drinking and hydrating. I knew I was in trouble and slogged my way to my car. I hoped the air conditioning would bring relief. I was too far gone. I had my teammate drive me to the fire station. The Chief from Oak Lawn, Illinois (of all places) was there. He is a great man and he immediately took me to the FEMA medical site at the jail compound.
I was met by nurses from the DMAT Medical Team from Arizona. Nurse Joyce Horn of Tucson and Bob Kappler of Phoenix AZ got right on things. My blood pressure was real high and I knew I had made a serious error. They cooled me down and brought in Dr. Richard Besserman, formerly of New York and now in Phoenix. He took a look at me and said 1 liter IV should get me feeling better but the nurses, who said I might avoid the stick, asked to recheck my BP etc. It had come down so the good Dr. let it go by mouth only. Also met Dr. Ken Iserson.
These superb men and women are on call to the Fed Gov. for Emergency Medical Response as a team. I was very fortunate to have them close. Off we went after an hour or so with many thanks and a promise to write them into the update.
So back we traveled stopping at the Troop B location to eat and get water. We came back by way of I-10 that had been closed by water as of two days ago. So strange, as we were one of the first to transit the area. It is FILLED with garbage and abandoned vehicles and every type of debris. It was a Road Warrior vision.
Driving here is interesting with people and vehicles traveling the wrong way on the interstates in the disaster areas. Some crazy drivers...one must take care. I suppose others think that of us, too, as we wind our way through the maze of broken and destroyed roadways and materials.
The city is being worked on and progress in some areas visible. Much of the landscape is a soggy or dried mess that defies imagination as to how it will be cleaned. Yet, I know when Americans set their sights on a goal, it happens. Years from now this will be a distant memory and the New Orleans area will rise to newer greatness.
I will carry the vision of this place as it is today for my lifetime. Perhaps someday I will return to look upon these areas again, rebuilt and vital.
We begin again early tomorrow morning. I will be drinking early and often. I do NOT want to revisit our friends at the Med Center again, unless to say hello.
Between Illinois Police Officers and Fire Fighters, we have shown the South that their Northern cousins are up to the task.
Best to you all and let the families and spouses know we miss them greatly. We will be here a bit longer than anticipated but we signed on for the job and to do any less than asked is not acceptable.
Quick note; Master Sgt. Jeff Regan of the Illinois State Police, logistics wizard and good man all around, was promoted to Lieutenant while here running part of the show. Congratulations to a top man and well deserved. The ISP is a fine group and without them, none of this would have happened.
I am off to get some needed rest. The young officers, most all of them deployed, seem to go and go. Among these kids, I am an old guy. Still they know they best watch out at the shooting range.
God bless all and keep safe.
Chief Jeff Chudwin
Olympia Fields (IL) PD