In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, two extended Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)/canine search and recovery operations were conducted in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. These operations thrust canine teams and non-canine users into close professional quarters for two or more weeks at...
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In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, two extended Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)/canine search and recovery operations were conducted in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. These operations thrust canine teams and non-canine users into close professional quarters for two or more weeks at a time for about nine months. This article addresses the main canine issues raised by those operations from the viewpoint of the canine-uninformed.
On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane, causing massive, widespread destruction. Among the areas hardest hit was New Orleans. Although there was much wind-caused structural damage, the major problem was flooding. One of the city's worst damaged areas was the Lower 9th Ward, a residential area 2.3 square miles in area and 5.8 miles in perimeter. It is bordered on the west by the Industrial Canal, a man-made waterway a quarter-mile wide; on the north by the Mississippi River Greater Outlet (MRGO), a man-made waterway a half-mile wide; on the east by St. Bernard Parish (county), a mostly residential community at the border; and on the south by the Mississippi River. The pre-Katrina population was around 4,800 people in 1,500 households.
In the morning, the Industrial Canal was breached twice. During the day, the MRGO breached in several places, causing a destructive wall of water to attack the Lower 9th Ward, leaving it under up to eight feet of water for four weeks. Eighty percent of the city was under water, up to 20 feet high in some places. This water assault caused massive problems, moving some structures violently for several blocks, destroying others, and covering the area with layers of mud and silt two to three feet deep.
Hasty repairs were made to the levee protecting the Lower 9th Ward from the Industrial Canal and efforts were made to pump out the region. This is where things stood on Sept. 24, when Hurricane Rita, a Category 3 storm, ripped into Texas and Louisiana, the eye wall coming ashore in Cameron Parish about 200 miles west of New Orleans. Even though the city was well away from the brunt of the storm, the counter-clockwise rotation of the winds caused a relatively strong storm surge to come into Lake Pontchartrain, which rushed into the Industrial Canal, causing the levee repairs to breach again. Once more, the area was inundated with flood waters.
One of the many responders to this situation was Southeast Louisiana Task Force 1 (SELA TF-1), a regional USAR team that includes responders from Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes. The task force was originally scheduled to go on line in November 2005, but the day before Katrina's arrival, the City of New Orleans, through the New Orleans Fire Department, felt it was necessary to activate an emergency strike team from SELA TF-1. This team, along with many other responders, spent the next few days rescuing thousands of citizens from the flood waters that washed through the city. After two weeks, the team stood down and returned to "normal" duty.
On Oct. 9, the entire SELA TF-1 Task Force was reactivated with the mission to search the Lower 9th Ward for human remains. The Louisiana State Medical Examiner's Office had received a list of 162 missing persons in the Lower 9th Ward. The list came with addresses for the missing persons and it was decided to conduct a general search of the area as well as a "points of interest" search.
The Lower 9th Ward can be divided in half on an east/west line along Claiborne Road. The area north of Claiborne was devastated, with only a few structures left standing and none left untouched by the mud and water that ravaged the area. The area south of Claiborne, except for a few spots, was left in good condition. The SELA TF-1 command element decided to conduct canine, technical and physical searches street by street with emphasis on points of interest such as nursing homes and churches. At that time, the task force had no attached canine team, so canine teams were called in from all over the country through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an arrangement established by the federal government whereby states put their assets up for availability anywhere in the U.S. and other states in need of those assets can bid on them.