The Mississippi towns of Biloxi, Gulfport and D'Iberville were leveled by a monster storm that destroyed homes and lives three weeks ago, but the one thing Hurricane Katrina didn't take from the people in this Gulf Coast community was their Southern hospitality, said Carson City Sheriff's Deputy Dan Ochsenschlager.
"All of these people lost everything and they were so nice. They'd be standing on their (home's) foundation with nothing around them and thanking us for coming," he said.
"Everyone thanked us for being there. Especially when they knew we were from Nevada," Undersheriff Steve Albertsen said.
Ochsenschlager, along with deputies Cody Dellabitta, Don Gibson, Jose Gomez and Albertsen were among 103 Nevada law enforcement officers who answered a plea for help from the storm-ravaged state. They spent two weeks in three towns decimated by Hurricane Katrina.
In pullover shirts that said Carson City Sheriff's Department on the back, and civilian vehicles affixed with magnetic stars, the group was assigned to the Harrison County Sheriff's Department and tasked with dayshift looting and theft patrols. In that experience, Albertsen said, they found themselves, more times than not, face to face with grateful survivors.
"I don't know how to describe it. It was interesting, and sad and rewarding," said Albertsen. "We all felt good about going to help, not only the citizens, but law enforcement too."
The command post was in the parking lot of a destroyed high school. There was no running water for a few days, the heat was stifling, whether it be 9 o'clock day or night. The stench from more than a million pounds of seafood from a destroyed seaside packing company filled the air. But all 100 Nevada officers worked 12-hour shifts, seven days straight. Ochsenschlager said they did it happily, giving their Mississippi counterparts a much needed rest.
The hardest part of the tour, the men agreed, was maintaining order in the quarter-mile-long line of people hoping to get a check from the American Red Cross.
The aid workers would only issue between 500 to 1,000 checks per day. The Red Cross knew this when they began cutting the checks in the morning, Ochsenschlager said, but 3,000 people would stand in line for hours.
"It upset us. If the Red Cross thought they might be able to process 1,000, they should pass out 1,000 numbers. You shouldn't make 3,000 people stand there all day long in that heat, knowing you won't process them," he said. The Red Cross eventually began to issue numbers.
When the numbers ran out, law enforcement would have to face the ire of the people. But even then, they were gracious, said Deputy Gomez, a recent Carson City police academy graduate.
"They'd say, 'I know it isn't your fault, but when is this line going to move?'" he recalled. "Most were in good spirits and interested in talking to us and interested in learning where we were from.
"Besides the destruction, the generosity and hospitality will stand out to me the most."
He said when the area recovers, he and his wife, Jennifer, will revisit.
"I made some friends there," he said.
Though the men were only on the ground for a week, all would agree the experience was worth the trip.
"We wish we could have done more. We wish we could have gotten there sooner," the undersheriff said. "But we feel like we did help there and we were proud to be there. And I know any of the guys who went with us would go back in a heartbeat."
Contact reporter F.T. Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1213.