View Full Version : Into The Apocalypse: NO After Katrina

09-26-2005, 04:53 PM
This was forwarded to me by a old school friend. I was suprised to see that the the Arkansas State Trooper interviewed, although no direct relation to me, is my second cousin's second or third cousin (if that makes sense). It's from the Russellvile, Ark. paper

Into the Apocalypse

By Sean Ingram
The smell is what he remembers the most about the Big Easy now. And it’s been almost three days since he crossed the Arkansas-Louisiana border.
The smell of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina --dubbed the “toxic soup” of rubble, chemicals, fecal matter, garbage, oil and human remains--stayed with Arkansas State Police Cpl. Ben Cross of Russellville after he returned from a two-week tour of duty in New Orleans. He was one of 41 state troopers from Arkansas assigned to assist Louisiana State Police keep some sort of law and order in the decimated Gulf Coast city.
You've probably seen or heard New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region described in several ways, but not like Cross, someone who volunteered two weeks away from his regular trooper duties out of Troop J Headquarters in Clarksville to help restore some civility in one of the most unique cities in the country that has become a third-world country all its own.
The smell is a combination of everything -- decaying bodies, decaying animals, standing water, big oil spill, oil brine, the mixture of salt water, Cross said last week. “Then the fact that all the flooded areas included the sewers. There’s no active flow, it couldn’t go anywhere, it’s just sitting there. The longer we were there, the worse it got because of decay. Areas of town that weren’t flooded, like the French Quarter, were okay, but they were full of normal everyday trash. By the time we left, even with the windows up and the air on, it was still just so putrid. I've been around the world, and it still amazes me. We literally had to come back and burn all our floor mats, clothing and boots. The department will replace those items due to contamination. The whole town became a septic tank.”
Mutual aid
Forty-one troopers deployed to Louisiana Aug. 31 to assist Louisiana State Police in enforcement operations in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina for a two-week assignment. Representing Troop J were Cross, Cpl. Harry Smith of Clarksville and Cpl. Don Johnson of Perry County. Wilson Short, a Russellville native, is a Trooper First Class based at Troop L in Springdale.
According to Cross, troopers reported to the emergency operations center (EOC) in Baton Rouge (on the campus of LSU) after driving all night and were immediately put into service. Troopers took the oath of office to become sworn Louisiana officers and were paired up with LSP troopers and promptly deployed into the heart of New Orleans to regain control of law enforcement operations and augment what remained of the New Orleans Police Department.
“Most of the ASP personnel had logged in 30 continuous hours of work from deployment to the end of our first shift,” Cross explained. “We were called at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (Aug. 31, two days after Katrina hit Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama). The biggest hurdle we faced was (the) lack of coordination and communication amongst agencies. It went great working with Louisiana State Police. We knew our mission and we knew what we were doing, but when you start to interface us with (the Army) National Guard, New Orleans PD, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), thats when it became a nightmare. Now, they're starting to get organized.”
Arkansas troopers were split up as time and organization progressed, Cross said. Ten troopers were sent to Slidell, 10 were sent to secure New Orleans International Airport, and the remaining 20 were divided into a day and night shift to conduct roving patrols in the city itself. With the pairing of LSP troopers, an 80-officer force was created that distinguished itself well; to the point LSP commanders have requested redeployment around the first of the month.

“Arkansas troopers were among the first law enforcement element to have boots on the ground to support our sister agency,” Cross said. “We thought at first we were going to come into the city the next day in a massive convoy, but we literally responded in the middle of the night to the request for assistance.”

Throughout the two-week assignment, many heartbreaking events were encountered, but so were acts of human compassion and assistance that troopers were able to provide. Arkansas troopers were virtually in the thick of things throughout the city, from the evacuation of Tulane Hospital under fire from snipers, to the massive control of nearly 20,000 people on a revolving basis from Interstate 10 at the causeway, the Superdome recovery and the Civic Center recovery.

“The first three days ... things were really tense,” Cross said. “It steadily got better and better, as the overall law enforcement presence got bigger and bigger. After the first two or three incidents, they saw it was a no-win situation. Our basic job was to patrol. Me, Wilson Short (of Russellville) and another guy volunteered for the night shift, because I have a ton of night-vision capability they didn’t have, so they welcomed that. Graveyard shift was the evening before through the next day, but we worked 16 to 18 hours a day.
Troopers worked 16-hour shifts by the time they got to their areas of assignment, received their daily briefings, relieved the previous shift and finally were relieved by those same officers the next day. The LSP took over the Port of New Orleans as a forward base of operations, directly behind the Civic Center and in the heart of downtown. From there, officers went out on patrol in what was termed aggressive tactical apprehension car (ATAC) packs.”

Officers would travel in three- to four-car convoys throughout the various districts of the city in an attempt to locate looters, respond to activities observed by the military and helicopters, and basically seek to draw fire from anyone who sought to challenge the restoration of law and order, resulting in a perimeter set up and response from the LSP SWAT team in armored vehicles. “One of the biggest amazements to everybody was there was no concerted effort to pick up bodies,” Cross explained. “We passed by the same bodies for two weeks. They never moved them, in interstates, alleys, homes. I've been to 19 different countries, and even in third-world countries they don’t leave their dead out there for two weeks. Why in the world they didn’t have a mortuary team on the ground. I’m sure that will be discussed later.”
Sadness and success
Troopers located a number of individuals who had refused to leave and awoke them just prior to their imminent deaths after locating a structure fire that eventually burned down an entire city block due to the non-existence of firefighters or water to fight a fire with means. “We were evacuating the block, and we found an elderly woman whom we rescued,” Cross said. “The streets served as fire breaks. You couldn’tt fight the fires. They just burned themselves out.”
Cross mentioned another notable night where a group of horses and donkeys were rescued on an island in the downtown area. The animals, who normally hauled tourists around in carriages through the French Quarter and downtown district, had to fend for themselves and were later given food and water by their rescuers. “Hundreds and hundreds of alligators,” Cross pointed out about another animal dominant in the evacuated city. “We’ drive through the city at night with spotlights and night-vision-- eyes everywhere all the time.
On the Interstate 10 causeway, which became a haven for men, women and children-- enough to fill Russellville --one birth took place where the baby lived. Another part of the causeway, another birth, but the baby died. Once all the people were evacuated from I-10, Cross stated, seven bodies were found of people who had either died from exposure or from possible homicide.
Speaking of Russellville, Cross got a phone call during one of his shifts that led to a near-impossible rescue.
”Martha Hall, who used to be a nurse at Millard-Henry Clinic, married Jeff Seeber, who works at the Waterford Nuclear Plant outside New Orleans” Cross said. “When Katrina came, they evacuated back to Russellville. Greg Standridge gave up his lake house in Atkins for them to use. On Friday (Sept. 3), were on the causeway trying to keep 20,000 people from rioting. Martha calls and asked if we could locate these four elderly women, relatives of her husband. I walked down the line, about a mile long, and was asking if anyone knew Cookie, her nickname. Within 30 minutes I found Cookie and her three companions. They had been rescued by helicopter off their rooftop, and had been out there on the causeway more than three days. A phone call in the middle of the night meant they went with relatives in Baton Rouge instead of going all the way to Houston or San Antonio. We took them to La Place, gave them some water and got them reunited with their families. It was meant to be, or I wouldn’t have found them.”
Taking back New Orleans

“When we first got there, the first three or four nights, we evacuated injured people from Tulane Hospital,” Cross explained. “They had a large shoot-out at city hall. Rioters and looters wanted to take over city hall to make a statement, but they did not succeed. The downtown Greyhound bus station was turned into Camp Greyhound. We ran concertina wire around the inside of the station to make jail cells. Most of our duties were disarming public or dislooting public. The first whole week we were there, unless it was a homicide situation, you disarmed them, took what they had stolen and took them to a central location. One of the significant arrests we made was a Florida active duty soldier who went AWOL and was actually stealing cars. He broke into a New Orleans car lot, would steal one car, break into a store and loot and take the stuff some place. Then he would go back to the lot, steal another car and do it all over again.”
Cross also spent a small portion of his graveyard shifts talking to national media, including CNN and MSNBC on a couple of occasions. His Louisiana partner was Chris Anderson, who evacuated his wife and their two children to Lafayette before Katrina completely destroyed Saint Bernard Parrish, the county Anderson and thousands called home. “We finally made it to his two-story home,” Cross recalled. “It was destroyed, with a foot and a half of sludge still there. Here you've got a trooper whose family is living in a motel room and he was still out there working 16 hours a day. The LSP had about 60 troopers who totally lost everything.”
Two New Orleans police officers committed suicide after they returned to their homes and found their families had perished, Cross said, adding there will be much more heartbreak as residents return to the city to try to rebuild New Orleans and their lives. “Thirty percent of 1.3 million people did not get evacuated because they relied on public transportation; they had no way to leave,” he stated. “Unfortunately, that's the part of town that flooded. They had to evacuate on foot when it was too late. The storm didn’t spare the rich from the poor; Katrina destroyed it all.”
La Place of generosity
Besides the smell, the other aspect Arkansas State Policemen will never forget from their deployment to New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina is the overwhelming hospitality of the community of La Place, a city larger than Russellville (approximately 30,000) and 10 miles north of New Orleans. It was the first city to regain power and became the ASPs home away from home. “Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School opened up its doors to us and pushed the children’s desks aside to allow us to sleep in their classrooms,” Cross noted. “The school was closed due to Katrina and had no portable water. The First United Methodist Church across the street then came on board and between these two entities, we (troopers) were fed around the clock. These great people even laundered our clothing that had been contaminated down in the city, but above all, they met us at the beginning and end of each shift with a smile and a prayer for a safe patrol and a speedy return. Pastor Mark Bray and his congregation took us in like a bunch of orphans, and over the long days and nights we endured, the people of La Place never wavered nor failed to show up in their support of us. It was amazing.”
All of the 41 Arkansas State Policemen will undoubtedly take with them some intangible image that will alter their view of all future law enforcement encounters and the way mankind reacts to one another in dire circumstances, Cross explained.

“I wasn't scared. I've been in a lot of deadly force encounters. That part didn’t scare me,” he added. “It was just amazing once you crossed the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain into the city; it was like going across a bridge into the apocalypse. That’s what best described it. When newscasters began to call on this event apocalyptic, they were finally right on target, because this was an event of truly biblical proportions upon which all future catastrophes will be judged.”