Carson City Sheriff's Department Chaplain Bill Colonna answered the call to minister to law enforcement and Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Houston, Texas.
Those plans changed late Friday and Colonna has since arrived in Baton Rouge, La., to help the officers stationed at the Louisiana State Policy Academy Training Academy. He is one of about 40 chaplains, eight of which are police chaplains, providing spiritual counseling and guidance.
"We are here to counsel and debrief the officers," Colonna said. "As they come in from a day's work or deploy out for the day, we are here for them.
"It's extremely dangerous as far as contamination. People have come from all over the country to put themselves in harm's way."
Many of the people who evacuated from New Orleans went to Baton Rouge.
"The real devastation I've seen is the people," he said. "There are shelters all over the city and not a room to be had.
"I met an older guy, 60-70 years of age, retired from working on the railroad. He lived in Kenner, La. His house was completely destroyed. He was devastated. He had that thousand-miles-away stare in his eyes. Like he was looking at something that wasn't there.
"We talked 35-40 minutes and I tried to explain the important things in life - his daughter and grandsons. He realized he lost everything, but his family is OK."
Colonna and the other chaplains are staying at the Lamar Baptist Church in a shelter set up for them. The other chaplains are from Iowa, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois and a Catholic nun from California.
Colonna and five other chaplains will be holding an interdenominational service Sunday at the academy.
"The church has been so good to us, not only have they opened up their gym for us to sleep in, but they bought air mattresses for us to sleep on. They've also brought in tons of snacks. Out here, it's mind blowing to see the way people are reacting and helping each other."
Colonna said many of the law enforcement assigned to the area are sleeping in tents at the academy.
"All agencies are represented from almost all of the states in the continental U.S. I was talking with a sergeant who was helping people off Interstate 10 in New Orleans. He said people were falling over, dying right next to him.
"He quit eating his lunch. He just stopped and couldn't talk. He said others were asking him how does he deal with it. He said, 'I think about all the blessings I have, and try to think of a reason to laugh every day.'
"He's handling it, but he's been affected. He's hit hard - many of them are. Even the FBI guys have been hit hard with this.
"The magnitude of devastation is nothing like they've ever seen. Not on their own soil."
Colonna said he is handling the situation by being sure to pray every night with the other pastors and talking with his wife, Shelly. The hurricane has had an emotional impact on the Colonna family as Shelly is from Sulphur, La., just across the river from Lake Charles.
"Every family member I have is in Louisiana," Shelly said. "My immediate family is OK, I have extended family near New Orleans who were affected.
"I don't know what is going on with them because we still haven't heard from them."
Shelly Colonna said she is OK with her husband being away from home and in Louisiana.
"He's there doing God's work and I support him, no matter what he does or where he's at. I miss him, but I'm not concerned."
Colonna is scheduled to return to Carson City on Sept. 27.
- Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at email@example.com or 881-1223.