Unbelievable devastation -- that's what Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk sees in New Orleans as he lends a hand with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

"Pictures don't do it justice," Paulk said.

The sheriff traveled with a group of local law enforcement officers to Mississippi on Wednesday. Speaking on a cell phone Thursday afternoon, Paulk said the group, which includes his wife, Ginger, six Lowndes deputies and Echols County Sheriff Randy Courson, had pushed on to assist relief efforts in Louisiana. They arrived in New Orleans on Thursday morning.

Officials have created a grid of the city. Emergency workers are going door to door through neighborhoods, searching and securing homes.

"It's a tedious process," Paulk said. "A slow process."

Officers knocking on doors must wear bulletproof vests and keep their sidearms handy. "We don't know what we might run into at a house," the sheriff said.

Rescue workers from throughout the United States have arrived in the hurricane-ravaged areas. Paulk has met other officers from New York, New Mexico and Colorado. The National Guard maintains a highly visible presence throughout New Orleans.

Paulk said he saw areas in Mississippi that flood waters had moved from their foundation. "I could not see Gulfport being healed in five years," the sheriff said. " ... the cleanup costs will be astronomical. The cleanup is probably going to take years."

To contact City Editor Heath Griner, call 244-3400, ext. 274.

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