Just ask former NYPD detective Brian McCabe.
McCabe has just returned from what was effectively a tour of duty in a natural war zone.
But he is already planning a return to New Orleans in order to work on the reconstruction of a Franciscan church in the city’s devastated Ninth Ward.
McCabe and three former colleagues raced to the stricken city in the hours after it was flooded.
They offered their services and were accepted as deputy sheriffs in St. Charles Parish on the city’s Western fringe.
It was the beginning of a 10-day tour of night duty in an area that became a major transit point for what was fast turning into a New Orleans diaspora.
“We worked from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. There was a dawn to dusk curfew but we had evacuees wandering through the parish at all hours,” McCabe told the Echo this week.
“We worked at identifying individuals, getting them fed and cleaned up before they were moved to the larger evacuee areas,” he said.
“I took a few guns off people but for the most part there was no real trouble,” he added.
But there was a hell of a mess.
McCabe described a shattered urban landscape of downed power lines, fallen trees and smashed buildings.
At one point, McCabe and his fellow deputies had to investigate the non-fatal stabbing of a Honduran man who, as it turned out, was part of a large work crew.
The trail led them to a factory building inside of which was a large tent housing 400 illegals working for a Texas-based disaster demolition company.
McCabe was not impressed.
“There were local people just desperate for work,” he said.
McCabe and other law enforcement officers from around the country were housed for the their relief tour in a high school gym.
“It was turned into a barracks and we slept on cots. We looked like evacuees ourselves but were in far better shape,” he said.
For the first few days the deputies lived off MREs — ready to eat meals. But the word got out that McCabe and his colleagues were staying in the school and people from the stricken neighborhoods rallied to help the helpers.
“I’ll never forget the cry we heard one evening: “We got gumbo comin’.”
Now physically back in New York, McCabe is still thinking of New Orleans and a recovery effort that will take many months if not years.
His first plan of action is to dedicate this year’s Francis Michael McCabe Sr. Memorial 5K Run to raising funds for repairs to St. Mary of the Angels Church and School in the Ninth Ward, a part of the city that was particularly ravaged by flooding.
St. Mary of the Angels was a bit of a no-brainer for McCabe.
“I was educated by the Franciscans,” he said.
McCabe said that the repair and restoration work would be organized by the Rev. Brian Jordan, who, since the death of FDNY chaplain the Rev. Mychal Judge on Sept. 11, 2001, has been running the Franciscan church on 31st Street in Midtown Manhattan.
The McCabe family in well known in New York for its charity run, held annually for the last 23 years and now under the official auspices of the Irish American Association of Queens.
This year’s run, which has a number of age and gender categories for participants and numerous prizes will take place Sunday, Oct. 16 at Victory Field in Forest Park, Queens.
Details are available from the IAAQ at (718)268-8025 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Checks or money orders made payable to the Irish American Association of Queens, Inc. c/o McCabe, 91-08 71st Ave., Forest Hills, N.Y. 11375.