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NEW ORLEANS--Marines assist Evelin Jenkins out of their Assault Amphibian Vehicle Sept. 7. Jenkins waited 8 days before agreeing to be evacuated from the ruins of Hurricane Katrina

Photo by Sgt. Tracee L. Jackson

BLT 1/8, 4th AAVs rescue victims of Hurricane Katrina

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

The streets of New Orleans have been swept twice over. Once, by Hurricane Katrina, which left a path of destruction and a desperate situation; once, by Marines, whose efforts saved lives and secured neighborhoods for humanitarian operations. The Marines of 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division teamed up with 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, a reserve unit based out of four southern cities from Jacksonvile, Fl. To Gulfport, Miss., to re-trace the steps of Katrina in hopes of salvaging lives and assessing the situation for further operations to help the Big Easy get back on its feet.When the Marines received words that New Orleans needed some help, they were quick to jump at the chance to help American citizens in need.Cpl. Michael P. O’Brien, squad leader,1st Bn, 8th Marines from Doorchster, Mass., explained why he wasn’t surprised by his call to duty.“Part of being a Marine is to go into situations where things aren’t the best and you have to put your life on the line. Why wouldn’t I be here?” asked O’Brien.While there are myriad police units, rescue and task forces, and plenty of volunteers ready and willing to help with the storm, the Marines possess an unequivocal asset when it comes to navigating the hazardous streets of New Orleans thanks to the Assault Amphibian Vehicle, which enables a crew of able-bodied searchers to navigate on land and in the water without changing vehicles. The mobility of the vehicle is comparable to a tank’s, so the Marine search and rescue teams can easily sift through the flooded streets full of unmarked obstacles, from power lines above to submerged vehicles below. As the AAVs wades through the aftermath of the category IV hurricane, Marines see evidence of attempted escapes, such as abandoned row boats, ladders, and floatation devices. The neighborhoods seem empty, already having been picked over by looters. However, after hours of a patrolling, the team encounters some survivors of the storm who need a ride to safety.With the storm having passed more than 5 days before, the trio of evacuees is ready to leave their havens and retreat to safer, more sanitary conditions with the assistance of the Marines aboard the vehicle.“I’m from New Orleans and I’ve been through hurricanes before, but I haven’t seen one this bad before. After a while, I just decided it was time to go,” said Catherine Nishalson as she and her wheel chair were lifted into the Amtrak.Nishalson’s story was similar to the seven people rescued that day. They knew the storm was underway; they sat through the horrendous winds and subsequent deterioration of the city, and then finally decided to surrender to rescue teams as late as nine days later.The resolve of the people who stayed so long will be needed in rebuilding the city, said Warren Martinez, another evacuee. With so much work to be done, it’s best to cooperate, he added.“The people we’re helping are really good to us,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon K. Burleigh, a team leader with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. “These people had lost everything they had. They had nothing left, and they were asking us if we needed food or water.”“Regardless of whether they want to leave or not, the people are happy to see you,” said Lance Cpl. Patrick A. Lavey, a squad leader with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines.The continuous search to salvage lives is an ongoing operation for a Marine with Special Purpose Marine Air/Ground Task Force Katrina, and the squads of 1/8 understand slow progress will ultimately lead to success.