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Expert squad first into area, has saved 30
An elite team of rescue experts from Vancouver has saved 30 people in a suburb east of New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
"It is very hot. There are no power, water or sewage-treatment systems operating," Tim Armstrong, Vancouver Urban Search and Rescue team leader, reported yesterday.
"Rescue teams must travel by the road system, wading through knee-deep water, searching each structure . . . We have rescued approximately 30 citizens at this point and are providing medical triage as they are brought into base camp."
Friday, the team was designated to lead rescue efforts in St. Bernard Parish, where an estimated 30,000 homes were flooded to their rooflines.
"We are the first and only USAR team so far deployed in this area and are in operations mode now," Armstrong reported.
"This area took a direct hit . . . so there's no power, water or food . . . There is lots of police protection for us, but what they don't have is the expertise as far as rescue. They're more than thankful that we're here."
McKearney said Armstrong told him the team planned to spend yesterday establishing a functioning command post to organize further rescue efforts and to continue combing the area, zone by zone, for survivors.
The team of 45 left for Lafayette, La., last week and was transferred from there to Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans. Rescue operations were initially postponed Thursday because armed gangs of looters made leaving the staging area in Kenner too dangerous.
McKearney said the team heard gunfire as it was barged into the area, but has not been shot at.
We conducted operations in St. Bernard Parish today. We had to transit through New Orleans where the devastation was quite stunning to say the least. The devastation was unbelievable. We came in from a different direction than we went in the first day to St. Bernard Parish. We got in by rowboat, but we had to drive through standing water first for quite a few miles in vehicles. But we ended up getting there and set up operations.
We were successful in extricating 73 people out of the area that were still trapped. Unfortunately, one lady died when we got her back to the camp. Her body temperature had risen to the point where the dehydration was so that she died from exposure. But the team performed well. We were working out of air boats and other boats. It’s hard to describe in words the amount of destruction there. It was really heart wrenching to get people out of there, and then they still had no real place to go and didn't know what’s in store for them. So, it’s a pretty traumatic day for everybody, but everybody’s in good spirits and we all worked hard. We’re doing some good for the people here. All in all that’s our day.