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September 14, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: Rescue team arrived in New Orleans after three-day delay Hurricane Katrina: Rescue team arrived in New Orleans after three-day delay (September 14, 2005)

** Dead bodies are a daily reality for Menlo Park-based Task Force 3 rescue team.

By David Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

Members of the Task Force 3 urban search and rescue team, including firefighters from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, have been on site in New Orleans and doing what they were trained to do: searching for and rescuing urban residents, in this case victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"I've got about 80 members of my team working, doing a house-by-house search," said Menlo Park deputy fire chief and task force co-leader Randy Shurson in a phone message to the Almanac on September 9. "Unfortunately, we're finding a lot of deceased, too many deceased."

The team, which is based in Menlo Park but includes emergency workers from other Northern California areas, was a week in getting to the flooded city, in part because it wasn't allowed in.

With its four tractor-trailers, two buses, and a command vehicle, the team left Menlo Park on Wednesday, August 31, and drove to a staging area in Houston, arriving the evening of Saturday, September 3, said Menlo Fire Chief Doug Sporleder. But, acting on orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), they didn't actually leave for New Orleans until the following Wednesday morning, September 7, he said.

The team was equipped for water rescue and 72 hours of self-sufficient operation -- and members were eager to get going. Instead, they were put up in the Hyatt hotel for those three-plus days and spent their time training, maintaining equipment and attending "a lot of briefings" to keep them up to speed, said Chief Sporleder.

"The reason they weren't moved sooner into the area of operation is that the area of operation couldn't accommodate them," he said. The infrastructure had been destroyed, he said, and was without drinking water, food or food preparation areas, toilets, shelter and open ground for the team to set up operations.

"The situation down there is so monstrous, so hard to manage. We need a general manager on the scale of an Eisenhower," he said, comparing the 90,000-square-mile area affected by the hurricane with Normandy after the D-Day invasion during World War II.

A 14-person swift-water rescue team from Task Force 3 had been sent by air to New Orleans the day after the hurricane struck. This team and others like it have rescued some 6,000 people, Chief Sporleder said.

Task Force 3's swift-water rescue team is expected home next week, said Jim Lichtenstein, a battalion commander for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.
On site

In New Orleans, the larger Task Force 3 team members are among 1,800 search-and-rescue personnel assigned to the area, said Deputy Chief Shurson.

His team works from sunrise to sunset, he said. In his phone message September 9, Deputy Chief Shurson said the U.S. Coast Guard would be providing transportation for his team that day, with members of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division going along as protection. "It's real good," he said. "It feels very comfortable."

"Some (residents) sheltered in place and we're trying to get those people to move out," he said. "I don't understand why they're still in their homes with 6 feet of water in there, but that's not for me to determine, I guess."

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