Boat patrol on the lookout for looters

Published 12:11 am Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Melton Pierre patrol along the camps and houses along Old River Monday afternoon. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)

VIDALIA — Since Saturday morning, Kenny W. Byrnes and Melton Pierre have been traveling up and down an eight-mile stretch of gravel road in a rather unconventional way.

Byrnes is a Concordia Parish Sheriff Office’s captain and Pierre is a deputy, and thanks to the projected record-breaking river levels in the Mississippi River they will be patrolling this stretch of land near Minorca Road by boat until the water recedes.

“The main thing you have to watch out for when the water gets this high is looters,” Byrnes said.

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The stretch of land the two officers are patrolling contains approximately 100 houses and hunting camps that experience flooding problems every year due to their location on the riverside of the levee, Byrnes said.

“That is just the danger of having a house not protected by the levee,” he said.

Byrnes said he and Pierre travel along Minorca and another unit travels around Deer Park Road to watch out for any burglaries.

“The residents of the camps were told to get everything out by Saturday,” he said. “They came and got some of their stuff out, but they did leave a lot of it behind.”

Byrnes said the units will patrol the areas until the residents are able to move back in, and if there is any problem with a looter, they have it under control.

“All we are going to have to do is spot him and hold him there until we can take him in,” he said. “It works so much better already having officers on the water and able to get to a scene fast.”

This is the first year for both men to be on the boat patrol, but not the first time the CPSO has had to monitor for burglaries.

“This stretch of land gets flooded just about every year, so this is nothing new for any people that live here,” Byrnes said. “The only difference this year is the record-breaking height.”

Even with most houses on stilts 10 to 20 feet off the ground, the water, which sat at 56.62 feet on the Natchez gauge as of Monday afternoon, was already beginning to rise into the bottom portions of some of the camps resting on lower stilts.

Pierre said after three days of traveling up and down the road the camps sit on, he has only seen two houses that look like they will remain untouched by the water, which has another projected seven feet to rise before it crests.

“The water has been going up steadily, about a foot each day,” he said. “A lot of these houses are going to have water in them by (today).”

Pierre said that through Monday there had been no looter sightings, and the patrolling had been going very smoothly.

“We patrol from 8 a.m. through the day until it starts getting dark,” he said. “It has been quiet since we have started Saturday.”

Electricity to both Minorca and Deer Park has been cut due to the height of the water, and Byrnes said maneuvering through the dozens of lifeless power lines eye-level with him on the boat has been the hardest part of the job.

“You just have to watch out and be careful,” he said. “You never want to take any chances with them.”

With the water rising every day, Byrnes said maneuvering between the power lines is constantly changing.

“We have a lot of ‘one-day shortcuts,’” he said. “These lines are getting lower and lower each day.”

The threatening high water level has forced people to leave their belongings sitting on their porch, on their roof and even tied to trees, Byrnes said.

“Some of the items like gas tanks get tied to trees so they don’t get lost,” he said. “People over here are used to flooding, they just aren’t used to this big of a flood.”

Byrnes and Pierre said they hope they won’t have any problems with looters, but until the water begins to decline, they will continue to eat, breathe and live on the water.