Kiwi cop one of six remaining in Katrina aftermath

By David Fisher

In the City of Vultures, a New Zealander is one of the few remaining police officers who has stayed behind to protect the helpless.

James Gourlie, 30, formerly of Christchurch, is one of six officers who have remained out of a district force of 200.

"This is my district. I will not abandon my district, my county, my workmates or these people," he told the Herald On Sunday last night.

Mr Gourlie was speaking while preparing for another night patrol from the Hampton Inn, which he and fellow officers took over after their police station was overrun. For its single entrance, and the war zone outside, they have dubbed the hotel "The Fortress".

"I made a commitment to serve the community and protect these people. That's why we are here; why we are not leaving. We knew the risks when we came on to the job. We knew one day we may not go home. It makes you wonder why they took the job."

It's been six days and five nights of lawlessness since Hurricane Katrina hit. In the vacuum left by Katrina, anarchy has reigned. Human vultures have preyed on the helpless, pillaging homes and shops, committing murder and rape.

Mr Gourlie, in his first year with the New Orleans Police Department, committed to stay until buses arrive to take 20,000 stranded people from the nearby Morial Convention Center. The buses have been promised each day since Katrina, and failed to show.

When they do come it will only be if there is police protection, and these six officers are the only lawin town.

The decision to stay while hundreds of fellow officers fled has left them bitter. Mr Gourlie returned after getting his American wife Jennifer out of New Orleans.

When one fellow officer and friend pulled out for Texas on Friday, taking two automatic rifles and a shotgun, he earned his colleagues' anger.

"They're preserving their lives but they're risking their friends," said Mr Gourlie, of the "cowards" who have left. "You know what the New Zealand and Australian way is - and that ain't the Anzac way. You sacrifice yourself for your mates."

At night, they guard the corner of Jermaine and Convention Center Boulevard; during the day they patrol the district and search for food, fuel, weapons and water.

"We say requisition but in reality we have to go in and loot the store."

There has been little time for sleep. Mr Gourlie estimates the six have had about two hours a night. Food, too, was a problem until the officers started taking supplies from stores already looted for expensive electronics.

There are incidents every day involving weapons, although Mr Gourlie is thankful he has not yet had to shoot anyone. The times the officers have intervened, those desperate for help have wept and offered thanks.

A fellow officer was killed after warning looters away from a store. A looter pushed a gun against his head and pulled the trigger. "It was heartbreaking to see this police officer lying on his back, blood pouring out of his head."

There are gangs of armed thugs in the convention centre. One young hood the officers pulled up was carrying a civilian version of a military M-16 rifle.

"There's shooting. The thugs inside, they have come outside. They are running up and down, disturbing people with impunity. They know we can't cross the road and engage them because we don't know where their cohorts are. We are so vastly outnumbered, especially at night," said Mr Gourlie.

There has also been murder and rape. In one awful case, a 15-year-old girl had suffered both, her body stuffed into an oven with her throat slit.

"I would expect something like this in a war zone in the Middle East. You'd be stupid not to be afraid. It's how you face it that counts."

The gangs in the centre have now destroyed the generators, and last night was the first Katrina's survivors have spent without light. "That's one of the reasons why people are so afraid today."

- HERALD ON SUNDAY

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