By Major Jerry Bell, Emergency Manager
(Editor’s Notre–This is the first part in a series of stories in recognition of Hurricane Heroes of 2020. Continuations will be printed in an ongoing fashion over the next few weeks.)
DeQuincy was in the midst of coping with the Covid crisis when a new disaster was looming on the horizon which was projected to be a very bad one. Of course I am talking about Hurricane Laura. At this time there was not a clue that after Hurricane Laura, that Hurricane Delta would follow closely behind and make the killing blow to many residences.
Mayor Riley Smith and Police Chief Casey Whitehead both knew that this disaster would fall directly on their shoulders so they began preparing for what they deemed would be one of the worst disasters in the history of our city.
Emergency meetings were held and planning for survival began in earnest. I remember distinctly the morning that I was in the Mayor’s office and he appointed me to be the Emergency Manager for this disaster. I wanted so much to say, “I’m old, could you appoint someone else” but I didn’t. I guess that the Mayor knew that I would give it my best.
As a veteran of several hurricanes and having spent many years in FEMA, I knew that there was a lot to be done. My problem was that I had told my wife after Hurricane Rita that she and I would never ride out another hurricane if we could evacuate. I now had to break the news that I had to stay. Like a good military wife, she understood and said okay. I am sure that the other Policemen and Fireman had the same conversation with their spouses.
A police person or a fire person has to stay. It is almost mandated. This line of work calls for duty and sacrifice for your city. If this is not understood then you are in the wrong line of work. When there is danger, it is understood that you go towards it, accomplish your mission and hope and pray that you will succeed.
So, the first heroes of 2020 are the DeQuincy police and firemen and women and they would never consider themselves heroes but they are in all senses of the word. Our city should be proud that they have the men and women who serve proudly with small pay and few accolades. Chief Casey Whitehead and Chief Johnny Copeland went above and beyond in their leadership during this latest crisis.
While both their residences were extremely damaged or destroyed, they put that aside and did their duty as leaders and accomplished their mission. They and their men and women worked countless days and hours making sure that our citizens were safe and secure during the emergency phases of the disaster.
They were assisted by Mayor Riley Smith who approved every request and he and his sons were on the ground working tirelessly, even sleeping at the command post located at the Police Department. Captain Tom Threet, soon retiring, was put in charge of keeping the town safe and organizing a plan for evacuation and search and rescue after the storm had passed. He carried out this mission flawlessly and no one was killed or injured. Other police officers and firemen worked long hours keeping our city safe. Everyone one of them is a great asset to our community and should be thanked by the public.
I said a lot about our policemen, I guess because I have been one for 58 years but the firemen and women are equally as important and did an outstanding job during the disaster. They worked tirelessly making sure all fires were extinguished. When they had spare time, they put blue tarps on many homes. They passed out ice, helped the National Guard pass out food, helped get trees off our citizen’s houses and much more. Chief Copeland and his people are some of the true heroes of Hurricane Laura. I personally know that as the Emergency Manager that he completed all the missions that I asked him to undertake without any hesitation. Chief Copeland was assisted greatly by his wife and his captain.
One of the first requests that I asked Mayor Smith to consider was to ask the Council to declare an Emergency decree and approve for our city employees to help our citizens by using some of the city’s equipment on their property. This was expedited and our Council should be recognized for this quick action. The Council also approved for our men and women to get their emergency pay and for this our employees are grateful.
(To be continued)