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Marines Offer Perspectives on Katrina

By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service

PASCAGOULA, Miss., Sept. 11, 2005 – Marine 2nd Lt. Jeff Robichaux stands in front of what used to be his uncle's house less than 500 yards from the Gulf of Mexico. The neighborhood is devastated and 90 percent of the homes on the block have been reduced to large piles of broken wood and cracked concrete - Hurricane Katrina's calling card.

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Marine 2nd Lt. Jeff Robichaux looks over what is left of his uncle's house in Pascagoula, Miss. The Marine Corps gave the newly minted lieutenant from the Katrina-ravaged area 30 days to help their families and to work with community leaders to assist in the rebuilding and humanitarian effort. Photo by Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Robichaux stares at the rubble with work gloves in his hands, but like most here, he doesn't seem to know where to start. His parents' house, also in the damaged area, fared better: It is severely flood damaged, but Robichaux is optimistic.

"It's pretty bad," Robichaux said, "But we still have four walls and a roof. We're a lot better off than most down here."

Robichaux's family is deeply involved in the rebuilding effort here. His father works for the local electric company and helped South Florida rebuild after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and his uncle is a police officer. Now, Robichaux has also joined the effort.

Robichaux was dispatched by the Marines from Quantico, Va. where he was a student at the Marine Corps' officer basic school. The Corps sent him on a 30-day mission.

"Anyone who had family down here could come down on orders to provide humanitarian relief in their own hometowns," Robichaux said.

He said Quantico sent six newly minted lieutenants from the basic course who reside in the storm-damaged region or who have families there. The officers are on 30-day orders to help their families, but also work with community leaders to assist in the rebuilding and humanitarian effort.

During the day, Robichaux helps his family pick up the pieces of their broken lives, and at night, he helps local officials keep the peace.

"Right now we're working with the sheriff's department to get them whatever they need," Robichaux said. Since his arrival he has helped coordinate response to a fire and also assisted in the evacuation of a child with kidney failure.

Robichaux says he and the other Marine officers have been told they will likely head to New Orleans after they complete their hometown relief work. There, they will form a security company and help "keep order."

Lt. Col. Dave Flynn, a Marine Corps facility officer headquartered with Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans, worked a few blocks from the French Quarter in the Ninth Ward of Orleans Parish. He drove out of the city the evening of Aug. 28.

"It was surreal," Flynn recalled. "The streets were very empty by that time except the main roads leading out of town. There were very few people on street," he said. "There was a very large emergency presence on the street by National Guard and police," he added.

Flynn said that most citizens in New Orleans were in a state of denial. Many were storm veterans.

"The city had some near misses with Ivan last year and two storms this year. I think people kind of thought it would be the same," Flynn said.

Flynn evacuated his family to Indiana where the family plans to relocate once Flynn retires from the Marine Corps. The family lived in St. Bernard Parish and they do not know how their home has fared.

"It is still under some of the deeper flood waters," Flynn said. His family lost some personal effects in the storm and subsequent flood, but Flynn said he does not know to what extent since some household good were also in storage in Kenner, La.

Flynn joined his family in Indiana and now he and his co-workers are re-establishing their office in South Carolina with the help of Navy Facilities and Engineering Command's Southern Division and the naval hospital in Charleston.

"I will be staying in Charleston for the near term and hope to be set back up in New Orleans after the first of the year," Flynn said.

All Marines who work with Flynn were ordered to evacuate the area by the Marines Corps. Flynn said despite the losses, many are in good spirits.

"They are all holding on pretty well. Many have taken losses," Flynn said. "Civilian employees that work with the headquarters have been displaced as well. Many had their homes destroyed throughout the area," he said. "A lot of the people that work with me live in Slidell and on the Mississippi coast."

Flynn said that the Marine Corps is managing affected personnel well. He thinks they are executing the best possible plans and courses of action, given the size and scope of the disaster.

"All Marines, sailors, and civilian employees and dependents are being taken care of in numerous places around the region," Flynn said. "They are doing an outstanding job trying to coordinate people's needs and maintain the posture of the Reserve Force for ongoing relief efforts and contingency operations around the world."

Flynn's command has successfully displaced to numerous areas, regrouped and continues to work around the country while also adding the responsibility of taking care of all of the dependents for the command.

It's "a daunting task," Flynn said, considering most "are displaced without much long-term supplies."

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Related Sites:
Military Support in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

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