Maryland Troopers Aid Post-Gustav Louisiana

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008

Talk about an epic road trip.

Twenty Maryland troopers and two communications technicians spent the first week of this month on patrol in Livingston Parish, La., as part of the state police's effort to help authorities there in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav. The Maryland crew completed the more than 1,000-mile journey to Louisiana in 19 hours, driving 11 vehicles through the night to arrive on Wednesday, Sept. 3, two days after Gustav made landfall.

The occasion marked the first time Maryland troopers have been dispatched so far away, officials said. Livingston Parish is east of Baton Rouge.

"They were hit pretty hard. At one point, according to the sheriff, they had about 95 percent of the homes out of power," said State Police Capt. Jeff Gahler, speaking by cellphone from the parish, equivalent to a county in Maryland. "To my knowledge, this is the first time we've actually deployed troopers out of the state."

With a curfew in effect from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., the troopers' main role was to patrol the streets, Gahler said. They worked in two-person teams, each pairing a Maryland officer with a Livingston Parish sheriff's deputy, and the Maryland troopers did in Louisiana what they do on a daily basis at home: make arrests.

"When there's no traffic supposed to be on the road, it's pretty easy to pick out who you're going to stop," said Gahler, who also said troopers participated in three or four foot chases. "The people on the streets disobeying the curfew are trying to take advantage of the criminal opportunity that presents itself with the power loss."

Deputy Sheriff Perry Rushing, a spokesman for the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office, said: "We still get fights, family fights. We still get drug activity. We still get those things" after a hurricane.

The troopers stayed in a newly constructed jail that has not been used to house inmates, Rushing said. The Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office provided food and gasoline, he said.

The operation cost about $63,000, according to the Louisiana Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. That cost eventually will be reimbursed -- at least in part -- by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Louisiana and Maryland officials said. Louisiana will pay Maryland for whatever FEMA does not reimburse, said Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

The state police were among several Maryland groups to travel south in Gustav's wake, McDonough said. Among the others were a team of ambulances and paramedics that went to other areas in Louisiana and three National Guard helicopters that went to Mississippi.

The assistance was requested under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an agreement that helps coordinate assistance among states in times of disaster.

"We were very cautious on what we sent out on these EMAC requests," McDonough said. "We wanted to be particularly careful that we were not caught short of meeting our own needs."

The state police team returned to Maryland last week.

"We will sorely miss them," Rushing said. "For the friendship and camaraderie, it's just been super."

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