New Video Shows Texas Law Officers Amidst New Orleans Misery - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

8/29/06-Tyler

New Video Shows Texas Law Officers Amidst New Orleans Misery

Videotape of the misery of post-Katrina New Orleans is seen for the first time on KLTV 7.  Captain Larry Hand, a Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden in Tyler, was one of 50 who patrolled the waters in New Orleans' flooded Ninth Ward.  As we mark one year since the nation's tragedy, we have those sights and sounds, some of which never before broadcast.

Hand describes seeing for the first time "the sheer magnitude. You can see it on TV, but until you drive on the elevated freeways and see mile after mile of flooded city, it's not something that a person is accustomed to seeing."

The videotape shot by Hand documents the horror that was Katrina -- the storm that continues to devastate New Orleans, long after the wind and rain subsided.

"Some people did not comprehend the scale of what was happening," he says of those who refused to leave.  Hand and fifty other Texas game wardens were called upon to serve in another state -- to maneuver the streets of the lower Ninth Ward and rescue anyone left.

"This was several days into it," he describes of the video.  "[That's] when some of the holdouts realized it wasn't going to get any better."

Hand says many people stayed to protect what they had, and the homes made it through the storm, just to be swamped when the levees broke.

"They truly felt in their hearts that if they stayed there just a few more days, everything was going to be okay," he says.

Airboats got them around neighborhoods above a toxic soup of oil, chemicals, human and animal waste.

"You just cannot imagine the smell," he says, saying that even thorough the masks the stench was incredible.  The masks held back the toxic mist kicked up by the airboats' huge fans.

"It was a very unhealthy environment."

Hand says his group encountered no violence, but some people who did not want to leave the destruction and impending disease.

"Then there was unfortunately a small segment who truly had some mental problems, and we ran into some folks who really needed to go somewhere that they could be taken care of."

On the video a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries officer addresses the camera, as several men are wading, unprotected from the filth.

"[We're] trying to get them to come with us. This is the last ride."

Hand says one of the men was already was sick from the contamination.

"They've got rabbits?" asks another officer, incredulous that the residents would only leave with their pets.  Rescuing pets was not their mission, but Hand and the other officers determined it was the only way to get the sick man and his companions to the help they needed.

"We ended up bringing back three rabbits in a box and a dog on a leash."

Hand says the scale of this disaster was like nothing he's ever seen before. Miles of destruction, and even death. There was no system in place to recover the dead. Twelve months on now, he says the experience has made his department stronger, better able to handle another disaster.

"They just did not comprehend that this was not a short term situation," he says.

Captain Hand says the experience in search and rescue allowed game wardens and others to be far more prepared for the next disaster, Hurricane Rita in September.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.

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