Parts of New Orleans are like Pompeii after the volcano. So much is frozen in time and untouched since Katrina.
What's worse: They are still finding human bodies. Teams with sniffer dogs go out every day. One team in the Lower Ninth Ward found two brothers just last week. Friday, they were back on the job, led by Ruel Douvillier, a veteran of Vietnam and the Gulf War, who is again leading his men and women in a gruesome task.
“He's alertin’, he's alertin’ right now,” says a member of Douvillier's team as he walks with his search dog. “There's something in there. Could be a body.”
“It's very strenuous, it's very emotionally demanding,” Douvillier says about the work. “It assaults all your senses, your taste. You taste it, you smell it, you see it, you touch it.”
Brian Williams: Respectfully, we've been coming here for eight months now, and there is a smell here, that you know instantly. Is it what we think it is?
“It is the scent of decay,” says Douvillier. “There is some human remains, there are animal remains all over the place. What the dogs do, is they see smells. The dogs see smells the way we see colors. The dogs will tell us there is a human being in there.”
“One of the worst things about this job is that you tend to visualize the last moments of the individuals,” explains Douvillier. “We talked to survivors, and the stories have been horrifying. The stories are of a 10-foot wall of water that just roared through this area at 4:30 in the morning. And we got to talk to the lucky ones. And now we're trying to find the unlucky ones.”
Williams: Is there is a moment when you've had a positive indication from the dog, you spot what are remains, where all of you on the team switch to a kind of respect mode?
“Oh yes, that's instant,” Douvillier says. “That is on every find. That's on every find. You can hear a pin drop.… But then we have to put that aside and get back to work.”
Williams: Could you do this without your military experience?
“It makes it easier for me,” he says, “because I have been through the mill before, on several occasions, but these fellows often have not. I think what drives them on is the realization that this is an important thing for us to do. We'll never bring closure, what is called closure, to the people that lost loved ones here. You're never going to get over that. The pain and the anguish will never go away. But we can perhaps lessen that by giving them some idea of what happened to their loved ones and making damn sure that nobody comes home and finds what we found down here.”