Since arriving in that city on Thursday, Sept. 8, Deitrich said he took a shower by hanging warm bags of water on a fence, fixing up a tarp for a makeshift shower stall, and letting the water run down on him.
Deitrich is one of four Bayonne police officers who are lending their expertise as part of the Hudson County Rapid Deployment Force.
"This was a force that was set up in four northern New Jersey counties after 9/11 when people found out that we didn't have what we needed to respond," said Deitrich during a cellular telephone interview this week.
The task force is made up of police officers from various municipalities, the county sheriff's office, and the Hudson County Prosecutor's office.
Edward DeFazio, the Hudson County prosecutor who coordinates the task force, said 15 officers from Hudson County traveled to become part of a 105 New Jersey contingent for a two-week stay in the New Orleans area.
"This is the first group we have sent, and it is made up of police officers from Bayonne, Weehawken, Kearny, North Bergen, Union City, West New York, Hoboken, my office, and the Hudson County Sheriff's office," DeFazio said. "They have been assigned to the outskirts of New Orleans, and we are told they are providing security for property."
Bayonne Police Director Mark Smith said four of his officers volunteered for the assignment.
"Hudson County Prosecutor Ed DeFazio decided to send people to assist in securing people's property and to do anything else that's needed," said Smith, who noted that Bayonne will also send to vehicles.
Although the force evolved out of 9/11, DeFazio said these are the kinds of duties for which the force was intended.
"Our rapid deployment team is part of a larger force by the state of New Jersey to Louisiana," DeFazio said. "State police in Louisiana made contact with state police in New Jersey with a desire for assistance. The state police made contact with us, and we provided our share of the needed number of officers."
The officers went to the New Jersey State Police Technology Complex in Hamilton, N.J., where they along with 55 police cruisers (including two from Bayonne) and support vehicles and five decontamination hazardous material teams that were sent to Louisiana.
DeFazio said another team would be sent to relieve the first if necessary, and possibly a third after that. The Hudson County Rapid Deployment Team has about 100 officers in the various departments.
"These guys are only getting paid straight pay for this," DeFazio said, "no overtime. These officers are making the sacrifice of leaving home and their families, for no extra pay."
The cost of their salaries, however, will be reimbursed by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management), DeFazio said.
Deitrich is a 35-year-old, 13-year veteran of the Bayonne Police Department who serves as Bayonne Municipal Counter Terrorism Coordinator, and is married with two children. His fellow Bayonne officers include Det. David Macre, 37, an eight-year veteran of the Bayonne Police Department assigned to the Street Crimes Unit; police officer John Arndt, 36, a six-year veteran on the force, who serves in the traffic division in Bayonne; and Police Officer Joseph Czapla, 33, a nine-year veteran of the department assigned to the Community Oriented Policing unit.
"These men have left their homes and their families to provide help in New Orleans and we are very proud of them," Smith said.
A terrible situation but getting better
While Deitrich said the situation is improving day by day, the situation is still pretty bad.
"Our situation is improving at the camp, but as the waters go down, we will see some of the worst areas exposed," he said. "The hazardous materials are terrible. The water is completely contaminated. We can't use the water down here even if it comes out of the tap. So we've rigged our showers up using solar bags that we let warm up all day, and take our showers at night. We hang them on the fence and use tarps for privacy. All our food and water is brought in to us."
The water is so contaminated from sewage and bodies that it is hazardous to deal with, Deitrich said.
"There are dead people and animals," he said. "We have seen animals drink from the water and die a short time later."
The water apparently contains large amount of e. coli bacteria and diphtheria.
The officers from New Jersey have several duties, he said, among which is to patrol for looters.
"In the city, there are dead and there are elderly people who can't get out," he said. "But there are gang members - roving groups of Crips and Bloods doing a lot of the looting. They are very well armed."
Gun laws are different in Louisiana, he said, and there are a lot of weapons.
"We hear gun shots everywhere," he said. "One night, the local Wal-Mart was broken into and someone stole 600 guns."
He said he never saw anything like it.
"There is lawlessness everywhere," he said.
The local police, he said, were overwhelmed by the disaster. A third of the force quit. The other New Orleans officers continued to work, but they could not reach parts of the city. Many were exhausted. Many didn't even know if their own families escaped or were among the victims. Nearly all hadn't bathed because of the polluted water.
"Between New Jersey and New York, we have a big contingent," Deitrich said. "We're here to step in as the police force, so that local officers can rest or go find out about their families."
Task force training paid off
Deitrich said the training that the task force members underwent in preparing for a possible disaster in Northern New Jersey had proven very effective in New Orleans.
"This isn't just a matter of us showing up," he said. "We've arrived with training. Some of our people are combat paramedics. We have experts in search and rescue. We even have Swat teams trained to handle the looters and gangs."
Canine units and other units have been assigned to finding cadavers.
During this interview which was conducted on Sunday, Sept. 18, Deitrich's unit was preparing to begin patrols in one of the affluent areas of New Orleans that had opened up with the receding water.
"It hasn't been touched by looters or searched for dead bodies," he said.
Deitrich said New Orleans handled the hurricane better than Mississippi, but had suffered sharply from the broken levies that send flood water into nearly every area of the city.
"We passed through Mississippi on our way here," he said. "The wind and rains leveled that state. It looked as if a bomb had hit it."
This is not to say that New Orleans was spared. Trees were down everywhere. Heavy metal posts for highway signs were snapped in two. Wealthy houses in some areas were cut in half by 200-foot tall trees torn up in the storm.
"But most of the houses are standing," he said. "The water was the problem. Many people couldn't get out of their houses, and then climbed up into the house as the water kept rising."
He believed downed bodies would be found in attics where people could not get to the roof. Some people managed to cut their way onto the rooftops using axes or whatever else they could find.
Deitrich said aid from New Jersey will be needed for some time and that another deployment will replace his in about 16 days. Meanwhile, he and his companions are living in a tent city, with living conditions for his unit improving daily.
"We've improvised," he said. "But it is very hot and humid here. And there is no shortage of the Jersey Sparrow (a mock name for mosquitoes). They are large and they bite."
Contact Al Sullivan at email@example.com