Jeremy Alford

Search'and-rescue operations were limited

by Jeremy Alford

Despite the visible damage in south Louisiana, officials with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries say none of their search-and-rescue teams were dispatched below Interstate 10 after Hurricane Gustav made landfall Monday, one week ago today. In short, the department’s boats remained on their trailers, and its wildlife agents remained dry - for the most part.
As expected, credit for the non-crisis has been doled out: Gov. Bobby Jindal pulled the trigger on evacuations several days earlier than the traditional timeline. By moving 1.9 million people - among the largest evacuations ever undertaken nationwide - officials argue that the need for search-and-rescue operations was greatly diminished. “Because of the way things happened with evacuations, there's little to no rescues to even mention,” says Bo Boehringer, DWLF press secretary.
Agents, along with law enforcement officials and members of the U.S. Coast Guard, were pre-positioned in Abbeville to serve southwest Louisiana, at Nicholls State University to watch over the Bayou Parish Region and in the Clearview area to reach New Orleans and as far south as Plaquemines Parish. Those teams were never mobilized, though. But Gustav was more than just a 24-hour storm. By Wednesday last week, its wind and rains reached north Louisiana and threatened several communities with flooding.
The department’s search-and-rescue team, which had just days before found itself without a single mission, was regrouped and sent north. The waters were rapidly rising in Winnsboro, the parish seat of Franklin were a handful of evacuees from south Louisiana were being sheltered. Gustav had pummeled the Ash Slough and Turkey Creek, Winnsboro’s main drainage points. The overflow reached the piney woods community in the dead of night, with agents launching boats around 2 a.m., according to The Monroe News Star.
With only their own lighting rigs to guide the way, the department’s agents were faced with at least 150 flooded homes to assess, says Winnsboro Mayor Jack Hammons. Debris, such as cars and rooftops, bobbed in the water and offered further challenges, by the DWLF team accomplished its mission. “We ended up saving 70 people from extremely high waters,” Boehringer says.
While it’s a figure that underscores the devastation wrought by Hurricane Gustav, it pales in comparison to the rescues executed during the 2005 hurricane season, when 22,000 lives were saved during Katrina and an additional 400 a few weeks later during Rita.