Local police officers trade badge to help Gulf Coast victims

By Staff Writer
November 4, 2005

Jerry Zurek

Two local police officers decided that it was their duty to go to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast this past August. Lieutenant Stanley M. Turtle and Officer Robert M. Heim, from the Lower Providence Police Department in Montgomery County, spent 12 days in the debris of neighborhoods and the destruction of the parishes surrounding the city of New Orleans, Louisiana..

On Wednesday Oct. 26, Lt. Turtle and Officer Heim came to talk to the students in Dr. Angie Corbo’s Effective Leadership Communication class about what happened in the aftermath of the hurricane. They talked about the experiences they had and how the officials that were in charge of the city, state, and the federal government failed and succeeded in their roles as leaders during this time of crisis.

“I wasn’t just some nut going down there. As a leader I said, ‘I’m goin.’ Come with me if you want,'” said Lieutenant Turtle. Turtle’s first reaction was to go down to New Orleans and help with the relief. He said that it stemmed from Sept. 11. He was compelled to go to New York City after the World Trade Center was hit but he wasn’t asked to help with the relief so he ended up not going.

He wasn’t going to stay in Pennsylvania for this natural disaster. So when his police department was asked for volunteers the Friday after the hurricane hit to go to La. he jumped at the chance. Turtle asked Heim to go with him and they started planning out what they were going to do.

When they got to Gonzalez, La., where they were supposed to be stationed, they were told that there was enough police help already and there was no need for their services. The officers in La. were stopping help from coming down when the need of help was at its greatest. The officers stayed anyway and were determined to find a way to help out.

“Words can’t even describe what we saw. We were in awe,” said Heim about seeing the sights of the city when arriving. “What you see on television can’t even be compared to what we saw down there,” said Heim. There was a distinctive smell of death and destruction that can’t be conveyed through the media. Turtle said, “You would see something and think it couldn’t get worse and then two minutes later, it was worse.” The phrase “Oh my God” came out of people’s mouths every five minutes they said.

For a week all over the New Orleans area, Lt. Turtle and Officer Heim searched homes for anyone left behind. They worked with the Colorado National Guard to search these houses and mark them as they were searched. Along the way they saw brick houses that had been washed twenty feet from there foundation, cars piled on top of each other and mud everywhere.

Many were surprised at the decision the governor made. She was elected to make a change in the state and many think that she brought more chaos. Anita Catalanotto, a resident of Lake View, La. and mother to a Cabrini College student, who attended the presentation said, “It was all just panic. People thought that this was the end of the world. They didn’t know what to do.”

The lack of leadership is something that Lieutenant Turtle focused a lot of his talk on as well. A major thing he stressed was that the federal government has aid to give, but the states have to ask for it first. There was a lot of delay by the state of Louisiana before the hurricane and a lot of delay by the government after the hurricane.

It was stated that New Orleans would need 72 hours to fully evacuate, but the Mayor did not order it until less than 24 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit. Also, the governor, Kathleen Blanco, hesitated to make any decisions and never took responsibility for the actions of her office.

This trip was done at the personal expense of the officers and they both felt that they were “leaders the whole time they were down there” said Officer Heim. They stood shoulder to shoulder the whole time and went wherever they were needed. At the end of the presentation, Lt. Turtle concluded, “Our only hope is that New Orleans learns from their mistake next time.and there will be a next time.when a hurricane hits the area.”

Loquitur welcomes your comments on this story. Please send your comments to: Loquitur@yahoogroups.com . The editors will review your points each week and make corrections if warranted.

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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