By Jeanne Sager
NEW ORLEANS, LA October 21, 2005 Home in Sullivan County, they might as well be bright red stop signs; down in Louisiana, they were a sign of relief.
The dark blue and yellow cruisers of the New York State Police, with two of Sullivan Countys troopers in tow, were sent to New Orleans to relieve the overworked police of the State of Louisiana.
Back in Sullivan County after more than two weeks in the heart of a disaster zone, Troopers Michael Schroeder and Bryon Powell said it was an experience like no other.
The flooding stuff was just unbelievable, Powell, a Cochecton resident who works out of the Liberty barracks, said this week.
Much of the business district is still there, Schroeder added, but the only thing left in the outer edges is total destruction.
Some of the area was just gone, he explained.
Schroeder, who hails from North Branch, wasnt familiar with the inner city of New Orleans he depended heavily on the GPS navigation system on the New York State Police cruiser he manned on the anti-looting patrols he and Powell were both assigned to during their stay.
Without that GPS, youd be surprised, he said. I was lost there were no street signs because of the storm.
And the Louisiana troopers assigned to work with the New York policemen hailed from the northern part of the state they were as unfamiliar with the territory as their northern counterparts.
They were as shocked as we were, Powell noted.
But the 100 New York State troopers sent down in the first wave of mutual aid to Louisiana, on an airplane donated by JetBlue Airlines, were welcomed with open arms.
They were sworn in as Louisiana state troopers for the length of their stay and offered food and shelter by the Baptist seminary in the New Orleans area.
Just like other police agencies sent men and equipment to New York City after 9/11, this was sort of a return of the favor, explained Zone Sgt. Rob Hafele of the Liberty barracks.
With men gone, training schedules had to be adjusted, but the police force made do.
Its part of being an emergency services agency, Hafele explained.
Because everyone in the local zone had undergone a special training over the summer to respond to disasters, the 14 men from Troop F who went down to Louisiana were especially useful.
They found themselves on the ground responding to domestic calls, helping to patrol the city and doing much of the same work they do in New York.
Powell said the stories of widespread looting so common in the media were true although on patrol he saw less of the actual acts.
Instead, he said, theyd make car stops and find stolen merchandise in peoples cars.
Overall, the troopers said they saw people in desperate situations who were just thankful for the help pouring in from across the country.
People really respected us down there, Schroeder said. People didnt try to get one over on us.
The people of Louisiana were very friendly, Schroeder added. Theyd give you the shirt off their back . . . they had nothing, yet theyd invite you to dinner.
They really appreciated us being there.
Powell saw families who had returned to New Orleans just for a day.
They couldnt stay, he said. They had no electric, they had nothing.
Theyre just trying to save what they can.
Many, Schroeder added, have already set down roots in the spots across the country that opened their doors to evacuees.
At least three-quarters of the people I talked to arent coming back, he said. Its going to take years to clean up.
Asked what people could be doing to help the victims, Powell said everything would help.
They need all of the above, they need money, they need food . . . he said.
Powell and Schroeder were just two of the waves of New York State troopers who will be putting in their time helping the people of Louisiana.
Both said theyd do it again in a heartbeat.
I felt I was obligated to go, Schroeder said. I got to see a different part of the country, got to do some inner city policework.
And its nice to feel like you helped somebody.
I got to meet a lot of good people, Powell added. It was a very good experience.