June 21, 2006

Nat’l Guard fans out in deserted New Orleans areas

By Peter Henderson

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - National Guard troops fanned out in
three New Orleans neighborhoods on Wednesday, aiming to help
stop a spasm of violence and looting in deserted areas as the
city struggles to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

Guard Humvees will shadow police officers through streets
nearly devoid of life that have become fertile ground for
thieves, some posing as builders.

"It is an exciting job. It is an adrenaline rush," said
Guard Sgt. Rachel Hall, 23, who deployed with less than 24
hours notice from her home in northern Louisiana for a job that
city police say will last through a long, hot, and possibly
stormy summer.

"Today we're doing ride-alongs. We're learning our area,"
she said, dressed in army-style fatigues, dark sunglasses and

The call for the Guard was a shock for many in the United
States who had watched emergency responders leave New Orleans
earlier this year. But rising violence and drugs, the expected
return of residents during the summer and a bloody quintuple
teen homicide over the weekend galvanized city and state
officials to act.

The pall of Katrina, which struck August 29, flooding the
vast majority of the city and killing more than 1,500 from
Louisiana, still hangs over New Orleans and the Lower Ninth
Ward, where Hall and her partner were patrolling.

Slumping, twisted homes, weedy fields that used to be front
yards, debris from broken cars and piles of muddy furniture
still define the area.

The Guard also will patrol the Lakeview and East New
Orleans areas that were covered by several feet of water for

One hundred troops will hit the streets during the day,
with a second hundred arriving in New Orleans in the afternoon
and 100 more on Thursday, spokesman Pete Schneider said.

Many in New Orleans are frustrated by the slow pace of
recovery in a city where few of the badly damaged houses have
been rebuilt and many remain to gutted. Trash piles still
litters streets in nearly every neighborhood.


Patrols will continue around the clock, Schneider added.
State police will also help patrol the French Quarter, the
tourist magnet for the jazz city.

City police will refocus on the most populated areas, where
the murder rate per capita is returning to roughly pre-Katrina
levels, even though the total numbers of killings has fallen.

Residents decried the shooting of five teens on Saturday in
a crime police say may be drug or revenge related, and the city
accelerated a call for summer reinforcements that leaders said
was already in the works.

Police Captain Bernardine Kelly, one of the commanders for
the Ninth Ward area, said on Tuesday evening that much of the
Guard's job would involve looking for looters.

"You can't tell the contractors from the thieves," she

A number of Guards veterans of Iraq and post-storm patrol
in New Orleans said the job was not daunting.

"Even if this city's been destroyed, it's better than
Iraq," said Hall, stopping at a warehouse near the Mississippi
River levee where police investigated possible burglary by men
with a rental truck.

"I don't want to see New Orleans go under," she added. "I
want to be able to come back down here and eat, drink and be
merry on my own time."