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Mexican, Dutch ships send troops ashore to help with cleanup

ABOARD THE PAPALOAPAN—The Marines have landed in Biloxi. The Mexican Marines.

And Dutch Marines, too.

Marines from Mexico, the Netherlands and the United States are allies in an international Hurricane Katrina cleanup effort based on ships about 20 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Four Canadian ships are on the way.

"Our president called George Bush, and three days later we came here," said Oscar Martinez Pretelin, an officer aboard the Papaloapan, a 440-foot-long, troop-landing ship. "We are honored to help the United States."

About 75 Mexican Marines landed Thursday on the beach just east of the Beau Rivage casino to begin cleaning up Biloxi, Miss., especially around schools and churches.

One of the Marines, Mario T. Rodriguez, said he left a small city in the far south of Mexico to volunteer for hurricane relief duty. He has a 3-month-old daughter with his wife at home.

"The U.S. is so rich, but even a rich country can need help," he said.

The Mexican Marines will be aided by Spanish-speaking crew members of the USS Bataan as they work in the devastated areas of Biloxi and Gulfport.

For the first time in the history of the Mexican military, women have been assigned a mission, said Lt. Leonardo Tun Humbert of the Papaloapan: Three female physicians and two nurses from the Mexican navy are aboard the ship waiting to be assigned to hurricane relief work.

"We are trained to help and we will help," said Sgt. Carmen Rodriguez Cruz, 26, a nurse from Veracruz.

A Dutch ship, the Van Amstel, a frigate that was pulled off a drug patrol near Aruba after Katrina struck on Aug. 29, is here, as well.

Lt. Cmdr. Henk Suurveld, the ship's second in command, said his men will patrol to make sure pleasure craft don't interfere with military operations. A contingent of about 70 Dutch Marines also landed on the beach in Biloxi on Thursday to clean up neighborhoods.

"The devastation is terrible. It is horrible," Suurveld said. "For us, job satisfaction is helping out in a situation like this."

The Mexican Marines got a bit of a culture shock when they met Capt. Nora Tyson, the commander of the Bataan. The 844-foot ship is equipped with six helicopters that began rescue operations in New Orleans the day after Katrina struck, then was sent to Biloxi on Thursday.

"We were surprised to find a woman commanding a ship," said Pretelin, the Mexican navy fleet officer. "We found her very professional, very well mannered."

"It's the same hard job for a woman as it is for a man," said Tyson, with a smile.

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(Pawlaczyk reports for the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): KATRINA-MEXICO

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