New Orleans search, rescue operation goes house-to-house
September 8, 2005
NEW ORLEANS, La. — With most of the larger groups of displaced people collected and sent to safety, the military and civilian rescuers in New Orleans turned to house-by-house search and rescue operations Tuesday.
It is an enormous job, made more difficult by the increasingly contaminated floodwaters, now a dark greenish-brown, tainted from decomposing bodies and showing oil and gas slicks.
The water is so polluted and clogged with trash that the only way to judge how deep it is in any given spot is by eyeballing the nearest vehicle to see how much is submerged.
To navigate the water, civilian rescuers use small powerboats provided by various state forest ranger and fishery departments, as well as airboats sent by fishermen from the Louisiana bayous.
Joe Youdell and Bill Sprake of the Kentucky Air National Guard say they still find many residents who refuse to leave. Youdell and Sprake warned them they face major hazards.
“The health risks are getting to be too high to stay,” Youdell tells them. “That water is pretty much sewer water at this point.”
The military, meanwhile, use enormous five- and 10-ton trucks, which ride high in the water. The trucks travel in pairs, with armed soldiers manning the corners of the truck beds.
But Diane Royal, 70, said she isn’t going anywhere. She’s staying there with her nephew and dog.
“We shall not be moved,” she said. “The only one I’m making plans with is Jesus.”
From a highway could be seen a large yellow and white dog, dying on the tiny back porch of one rickety house where he had been put out by his owners.
The dog had no escape: Two steps below him were the floodwaters; behind him, the locked door. There was no food and no water bowl.
The animal lay on his side, hardly breathing. It was so weak that only the sound of the military choppers overhead prompted it to raise its head slightly.
A tired-looking forestry official could not be persuaded to send a rescue for the dog.
“There are too many people out there,” he said.
But most of the people rescuers were locating in the neighborhood were dead, according to paramedic Jonathan Hammel, a paramedic with the Allentown, Pa., Emergency Medical Service.
Hammel said that boat rescuers had found at least 40 bodies Tuesday afternoon.
The bodies were marked and left in place for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to collect, Hammel said.
Hammel, who has just begun his civilian career after eight years in the Marine Corps, said the scenes he has witnessed in the past two days here have left him speechless.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “It’s sad. And amazing.”
But he and his partner, paramedic Jim Koch, agree that they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but participating in the rescue effort, difficult as it has been.
“I feel very privileged to be a part of it,” Hammel said, as Koch nodded agreement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.