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NEW ORLEANS--A Navy corpsman with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment washes off his waders after patrolling the filthy streets of the 9th District in St. Bernard's Parish.

Photo by Sgt. Tracee L. Jackson

1/8 Marines break through to St. Bernard Parish

14 Sep 2005 | Sgt. Tracee L. Jackson 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

With the “crisis” stage of Hurricane Katrina winding down quickly for St. Bernard Parish, the focus of the humanitarian mission shifts to the most rudimentary steps of restoring the communities. The excitement of a new beginning means starting with a clean slate. An overall assessment of the area being conducted by Marines from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment paves the road for rebuilding efforts within the city.In some respects, patrols through the city streets in St. Bernard Parish’s are getting better, according to Pfc. Augustine Semidey, 20, of Manhattan, N.Y. For instance, the excessive flooding has dwindled down to ankle-deep pools of polluted water, which makes it much easier to navigate. In other respects, conditions are worse, he continued. A layer of slippery mud filled with miscellaneous toxins coats the city streets, which makes foot patrols a tricky endeavor for a rifleman.Semidey and his fellow Marines have been crawling through the Big Easy on search and rescue missions since their arrival at the beginning of the month. Patrols used to entail a long day’s ride in the back of an Assault Amphibian Vehicle, but today, 1/8 slops through the mud on foot with the main goal of assessing the location of hazardous materials or objects that need to be removed before the demolition, then rebuilding of the neighborhood. However, the patrols aren’t unarmed in their fight to take the city back. They have the reinforcement of yellow galoshes and rubber gloves to keep the mess off the would-be rescuers. Staff Sgt. Charles A. Calfee, 3rd platoon sergeant for Bravo Co., noted the mission of the Marines’ humanitarian patrols has drastically changed in the last week.“A lot of the areas that were flooded before have dried up, and so we’ve been doing a lot more footwork,” he said, “some of the hazards we encounter are just the mud and the dirty water…we watch cuts and scrapes really closely and use a lot of hand sanitizer to avoid contamination.”With all the precautions in place, the Marines still have perilous and time-consuming tasks to accomplish. Most importantly, they have an unshakeable sense of duty and collectively refuse to let a little mud scare them away as they scale fences, trek over rooftops, and forge through America’s most recent tragedy.“We usually don’t know what we’re going to be doing every day until about an hour before we go out,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Rawcliffe of the headquarters platoon, “we usually patrol around looking for survivors, but it’s getting kind of late for that. Anyone who’s still in the city alive wants to be there. Then, there are some places where no one is alive,” Rawcliffe said regretfully. “The violence in the city has died out, so it’s pretty dead out there right now and we just walk around marking buildings.”Buildings are marked with the unit, date, hazards, and numbers of casualties, if any, that are found. The Marines of 1/8 idle through their designated sectors, keeping a diary on the houses they’ve checked. Once it’s assured an area is clear of miscellaneous assets and specified items to be recovered, the city can be cleaned up and rebuilt.“I look forward to the future for New Orleans,” said Calfee, “there’s a lot of work to be done right now, but by doing what we do, we help a little more every day. We see improvement every day and little signs that things are looking up, but like I said, there’s a lot of work left to be done here.”