New Orleans, Louisiana - Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 29, 2005 at 6:10 a.m. Less than two hours later, the levees overtopped, flooding the city, and the death count began to mount.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Resident Agent in Charge Blayne Bergeron of Houma, Louisiana, remembers Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. At the time, he was group supervisor in HSI New Orleans.
HSI had set up a make-shift command post by fencing in two parking lots in the French Quarter of New Orleans. From Sept. 1 to Dec. 24, 2005, the command post, outfitted with cafeteria and sleeping quarters, was home to about 300 to 400 HSI special agents who traveled to New Orleans from HSI offices all over the country. Their job was to restore order.
Bergeron said his first and recurring thought on seeing the devastation of the hurricane was, “Oh my God, this is like the end of the world.” Fires raged everywhere, and the streets were vacant, except for criminals who were looting and robbing people at gunpoint for their food and water. “It was complete lawlessness,” said Bergeron.
“Once federal law enforcement was present, they fled,” said Bergeron. “If they didn’t, we don’t know where we would have put them. The jail was underwater.”
After about a week of eating meals ready to eat (MREs), Bergeron said he and his colleagues were happy to see volunteers from the Salvation Army who gave them hot dogs, chips and water. “I’ll always remember and appreciate their charitable giving,” said Bergeron who said he gives regularly to the Salvation Army.
Bergeron remembered another experience about a month and half after the storm. He and a colleague offered to search for a relative of family members who were distraught because they had not heard from him since the day the hurricane struck.
At that time, “the area of the city that we needed to check was like a moonscape,” said Bergeron. Once the flood waters had receded, a coating of mud blanketed the entire neighborhood from streets to rooftops and had turned the entire town gray. No other human beings or vehicles were in sight. There wasn’t a dog barking or a bird tweeting. “There was no sign of life; it was eerie,” said Bergeron.
In the end, Hurricane Katrina proved to be not only a tragedy, but a learning curve. Bergeron said the difference between emergency preparedness within HSI, and in his own household, before Katrina and afterward is like night versus day.
HSI now has in place Rapid Response Teams in every HSI office who are trained and ready to act should a natural or man-made disaster strike. Bergeron listed the ways and means HSI is prepared for an emergency, including being equipped with satellite communications, radio repeater systems, generators, gasoline, sleeping bags, portable air conditioners and supplies of food and water.
Bergeron said HSI knows the importance of redundant and multiple methods of communication and of being self-contained. “My motto is: prepare for the worst; pray for the best,” said Bergeron.