Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) search, medical and technical teams from as far away as Washington and Massachusetts are being mobilized to help the residents of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and the Pentagon is sending several ships to the area to help with relief missions.
The FEMA Search and Rescue Task Forces teams have 70 members, including those who specialize in searching collapsed buildings. The teams have search dogs, chainsaws, tools and spray paint for marking houses containing dead bodies. Even when the roads around those houses are passable, there are not enough refrigeration trucks to transport the bodies to temporary morgues, funeral homes or hospitals. The FEMA Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT) are being dispatched from North Carolina, Ohio, Arkansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington and Massachusetts.
"FEMA is coordinating the mobilization of all available federal resources to help residents who may be in the path of this dangerous storm. The DMAT teams play a critical role in the medical response to a disaster by assisting communities whose local resources may be overwhelmed," said Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response.
The Pentagon has sent the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan to the Louisiana coast. The ship's helicopters are being utilized for rescue missions. The ship can produce large quantities of fresh water and is equipped with 600 hospital beds. Several Navy ships are on their way from Norfolk, Va., including a rescue and salvage vessel and the USS Iwo Jima, another amphibious assault ship.
A floating hospital based in Baltimore, the USNS Comfort, is expected to depart for the Gulf coast in a few days.
More than 100,000 U.S. Army National Guard troops have been activated and sent to the area. Army Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum said Guard members along the Gulf Coast are performing a variety of missions, from providing security at the emergency shelter at the New Orleans Superdome, where thousands of local residents are seeing refuge from Hurricane Katrina, to assisting with emergency evacuations.
"We learned from hurricanes in Florida that recovery takes weeks and months, and not days," Blum said. "So we are looking at this recovery operation with the long haul in mind, and we are setting ourselves up to have an extended, protracted response, as necessary, until normalcy is restored to these communities."
More than 40 U.S. Coast Guard aircraft from as far away as California and Massachusetts, along with aircraft from the Army and Air National Guard, have saved hundreds of people since the hurricane made landfall Monday. The Coast Guard received more than 350 requests for help yesterday, many from urban areas in New Orleans, but also from along the Mississippi coast, where people were stranded on rooftops due to severe flooding.
Additional Coast Guard small boats and cutters are poised to join the search and rescue efforts today, and will stage off the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to provide communications and fueling for aircraft, as well as to patrol nearby waterways.
Other Coast Guard assets, including hazardous material disposal teams, aids to navigation teams and disaster assistance relief teams, continue to work in conjunction with local, state and federal agencies on other relief and recovery missions to minimize the economic and environmental impacts from the hurricane.
The Air Force is deploying a C-5 Galaxy to Louisiana and a C-17 to Mississippi. Both are large cargo planes. The C-5 is carrying swift boats, which can maneuver in shallow floodwaters to ferry rescue workers and victims. The C-17 can evacuate 36 sick and injured people at a time. In addition, Black Hawk helicopters have been flying search and rescue missions in Mississippi.
The Air Force suffered its own losses in Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed "a good 95 percent" of Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, said turning it into a pile of debris and mud, said Lt. Col. Claudia Foss, a base spokesperson.
"Whether it was five feet, one foot or a few inches, at one point everything was covered with bay or Gulf water," she said of the base. Fortunately, no injuries were reported.