Back to the point of the thread - i.e. to trumpet Canadian contributions to America’s disaster relief:
BILOXI, Miss. (CP) - Armed with chainsaws, shovels and rakes, a company of Canadian sailors from two warships landed on a beach near Biloxi, Miss., to begin the task of clearing debris left by hurricane Katrina.
A shore party of up to 300 sailors is expected to spend the next couple of weeks toiling in 35 C heat, helping to rebuild schools, hospitals and other public buildings.
They were divided into five groups and sent to various cleanup projects around the city.
One group helped a company of U.S. navy Seabees, the crack engineering unit, in clearing rubble from the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, which was being reopened to house civilian aid agencies.
The Canadians had to march through a layer of putrid sludge, which coated the floor of the once flooded stadium.
“It’s a mess in there,” said Petty Officer Bill Venator, of Dartmouth, N.S.
“It’s unbelievable here. The only thing that’s missing is the holes where the bombs hit. It’s like a war zone.”
Biloxi is a small city of about 50,000 people that was hit hard by Katrina.
A dawn-to-dusk curfew is still in effect, but residents already have their power back.
From the air, the city is largely wasteland, with houses and buildings reduced to heaping piles of matchsticks.
About 30 kilometres east of the community, a wrecked oil rig is beached in shallow water. Its cranes and rigging are twisted, making it look like a helpless spider.
On the ground, waterfront hotels, restaurants and gas stations are blended together in a grey mass of rubble, tree branches and concrete.
In waters off the coast lay two Canadian warships, HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Ville de Quebec. A third, HMCS Toronto, was due to arrive late Tuesday.
The presence of the Canadian sailors is making a difference on the ground, said the officer in charge of the Seabees at the coliseum.
“They’re turning what was a three-day job into a one-day job,” said Lieut. Greg Garnett, who is normally based in Norfolk, Va.
“My guys have been working their butts off and they’re really thankful.”
Throughout the disaster zone, people are struggling to resume their lives.
At service stations along Interstate 10, wiped out families begging for a few dollars of gas money to get home has become a regular sight.
“They told me everything back home is pretty much gone,” said David Ray Cagile, a construction worker from nearby Gulfport, Miss.
“It’s great that the Canadians are helping us get back on our feet.”
The sailors on the ground are being given lots of bottled water to ward off heat exhaustion, working under the watchful eye of Canadian medics, including the medical platoon commander.
“When a city has been destroyed, whether by man or by nature, the infrastructure is down and the risk of disease goes up,” said Maj. Paul Charlebois, who has seen deployments in Bosnia and following the 1998 ice storms in Quebec and Ontario.
“All of those things we rely on has been destroyed. That’s a big part of our job, recognizing those threats and taking care of them.”
Aside from heat exhaustion, the sailors face risks from pools of stagnant water muddied by a mix of soil, human waste, oil and other pollution.
The water could contain E. coli bacteria, certain viruses, and a type of cholera-like bacteria.
As well, there is the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses, such as West Nile virus.
Meanwhile, a fourth Canadian relief ship, the icebreaker Sir William Alexander, was due to arrive Tuesday night in Pensacola, Fla., one day ahead of schedule.
It is expected to unload its relief supplies on Wednesday and then report for duty in the waters off Biloxi, where it will begin re-marking channels with buoys and using its heavylift crane to clean obstructions from along the debris-clogged coast.