St. Tammany deputies 'return a favor' by going to help in Tuscaloosa

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 3, 2011 at 5:10 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 3 at 5:23 PM

TUSCALOOSA, AL - St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain called it "returning a favor."

Tuesday morning, Strain sent 20 deputies and supplies to Tuscaloosa to aid in the tornado cleanup.

The 20 deputies are experienced in disaster management, and come from St. Tammany's Special Operations Division, including specialists from SWAT and Search and Rescue.

"All of these guys that are going are experienced in dealing with disasters from Katrina," Lieutenant Mike Ferrell said.

Ferrell will lead the group on what he called "a rescue effort."

He said before leaving, he expects his men to dig through rubble and to assist on patrols, "any and everything," Lieutenant Ferrell said. "We're prepared to do anything at all."

After Katrina ripped through Slidell in August 2005, the first out-of-state officers to help in St. Tammany Parish came from Alabama.

"I told them back in 2005, that we appreciated their help but I pray to God that we never get the opportunity to return the favor," St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain said. "Unfortunately, we now are in the position to return the favor."

"I'm very anxious," Deputy Jeremiah Abbott said when asked if he was ready to go to Tuscaloosa. "I'm ready to give a helping hand, and return many favors people gave us during Katrina."

"They need all the help they can get," Deputy Von Vargo said. "From just picking up the rubble in their house to having somebody to talk to, they need whatever they can get. It's just sad."

Deputy Vargo knows the sadness, first hand.

He was in Huntsville last week, getting bomb squad training in hazardous device school.

"Our hotel was about one mile away from when the large tornado hit," Deputy Vargo said. "We were able hear the sirens go off, then we were able to hear them take out the sirens when they touched down."

A few minutes later, he said, school was over, and his class went to work.

“I saw a lot of families just walking around, gathering what they could," Deputy Vargo added. "One gentleman was on his hands and knees just picking up pencils. We got down and we helped him gather pencils for awhile just to help him out. It was just the saddest thing."

Vargo requested the assignment in Tuscaloosa because he said he wanted to help.

"If we can go back and just help them to recover," he said. "Somebody to put their head on their shoulder, we'll be there for them. It's a horrible thing."

According to Sheriff Strain, getting volunteers to go to Alabama for the seven day mission was easy.

Sheriff Strain said, he had more volunteers than the 20 who headed out Tuesday, but he didn't want to exhaust assets too quickly, because he expects to be actively helping in Tuscaloosa for at least the next three or four weeks.

"In the law enforcement arena, we're all family," Ferrell said. "So, we'll go anywhere to assist, it don't make a difference where, and they'll do the same for us."

"It is an honor to be able to help a friend," Sheriff Strain added. "All the citizens over there who are trying to protect what pieces of property they have left, our deputies are really proud to be able to go and help out."

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