1. #1
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    Default Florida Firefighters in thick of Katrina

    Associated Press

    Posted on Fri, Sep. 23, 2005

    Fla. crews search for Katrina victims door-to-door in muck, mold

    ALLEN G. BREED

    Associated Press


    NEW ORLEANS - Florida firefighters Jorge Remedios and Edan Jacobs arrive at the pancaked house, and there they are: The same three German shepherds that had charged them the day before. The dogs emerge again, snarling, from the wreckage.

    As police distract the malnourished animals with food, other members of the group enter the house. Remedios' suspicions are soon confirmed.

    Inside is another corpse.

    "Apparently, they were protecting their owner," Remedios says.

    The week had gotten off to such a heady start for this search and rescue team from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. On their first day out, they found someone alive - 20 days after Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans' protective levees and flooded this fish bowl of a city.

    The euphoria of that moment was not to last. As they move deeper and deeper into the Ninth Ward, they find nothing but death.

    But there is no time for despair. The rescue and recovery effort has shifted to the neighborhoods that were flooded first and hardest by the broken levees, and there are still so many houses left to search.

    "We never give up hope," Remedios says as a stiff breeze kicks up black dust from the drying Mississippi River mud.

    Adds Jacobs: "Miracles happen."

    ---

    Remedios and Jacobs comprise Squad 1 of Florida Task Force 1, an 80-member unit brought in by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to scour the city for the living and the dead.

    By the time the Florida team arrived on Saturday, most of New Orleans had been searched by police and National Guard troops. But many searches were cursory, at best. If someone didn't shout out for help or respond to a knock, the rescuers marked the houses and moved on. Orders were not to force entry.

    But nearly a month after the storm, anyone left alive in an attic or back room is likely too weak to cry out. And amid the stench of rotting garbage, stagnant water and rancid mud, even the dead do not immediately announce themselves.

    The members of Task Force 1 must force their way into each house, even ones where it would seem impossible for someone to have survived.

    Jacobs, 43, was in Turkey in 1999, searching for victims of the devastating earthquakes there. But there, things fell where they stood. And there was no water.

    "This is a lot harder to deal with."

    In a combined 11 years with the department, Jacobs and Remedios have never worked together. But Katrina has made them like brothers.

    They sleep side by side on green Army cots in a tent on the parking lot at the New Orleans Saints' practice stadium - the BOO, or base of operations. They eat chow together.

    Now, they are walking through hell together.

    ---

    This day, like the others, begins before dawn. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, and country-fried steak, the group is briefed, loaded into two tour buses and ferried by armed escort into the hard-hit Ninth Ward - just northeast of the French Quarter.

    They stage from the battered E.J. Morris Senior Center and are on the streets by 7.

    Each team is equipped with the same tools: An ax, a sledge hammer and a Halligan bar - a medieval-looking tool with a claw on one end and a spike-hatchet combination at the other.

    This part of the ward butts up against the industrial canal, where two breaks in the levee sent water up to the roof lines of one-story homes within 10 minutes. Many of the houses here are nothing but piles of wood and slate.

    As the water rushed in, furniture floated to the ceilings like food in fish bowl. As it receded, the furniture resettled. At one house, Jacobs goes to three different doors before finding one that isn't blocked shut by debris. Even then, it takes a dozen kicks and another dozen blows with a sledgehammer to force his way in.

    A moldy smell rolls out.

    Inside, the crews are finding strange sights. Fish and crabs plastered 8 feet high on walls. A refrigerator up in an attic.

    At one door, Remedios pulls out a child's car seat. When they finish the building, he pulls out his cell phone.

    His 6-year-old son, Cesar, is in the hospital because of an asthma attack.

    "Hi, sweetheart," he says brightly. "You feeling better? Did they put a needle in you? Did you cry? All right! Tough guy. You never cry."

    Remedios, 40, is keeping a daily journal on a yellow legal pad. He addresses each entry to Cesar and 9-year-old Jorge, using simple words and sentences they'll understand.

    "We did find one person and we were all very excited," he wrote on Sunday.

    He doesn't tell them about the other times, like Tuesday, when he and Jacobs found the bodies of three elderly people in one house. He doesn't write about the wheelchairs they found, or the questions that haunt him, like: Why didn't someone get these people out?

    ---

    Janice Matos walks along the bulldozed streets with a colored map of the neighborhood. She is trained in hazardous materials, but today she is the mapkeeper and scribe.

    "Did you guys search that one," she asks Jacobs as he passes an unmarked house.

    "That's leaning too much," he tells her.

    "Are you scared?" she asks. "Just tell me you're scared."

    "Yes," he replies.

    Jacobs goes to a house across the street, leans his Halligan against the wall and uses it like a ladder to climb through the window. A few minutes pass, and Remedios calls out to him.

    "You all right?" he asks.

    There is no reply.

    "Edan?" he shouts.

    Still nothing.

    "EDAN!" he yells, his voice getting panicky. "EEE-dan!!!"

    Jacobs' foot emerges from a back window. Remedios sighs.

    "You didn't answer me there, buddy," he chides his partner. "I called out three or four times."

    Jacobs apologizes.

    "No matter who you're with, who you're partnering with," Remedios explains, "he's your family."

    After five hours of searching, the group breaks for lunch. Someone has chosen a spot in the yard behind a flattened house, under the brown leaves of a half-drowned pecan tree.

    The picnic area is separated from the street by a half-foot-deep puddle full of dead minnows, stranded when the canal water was pumped out. Remedios and others gather cinderblocks from the remains of nearby houses to construct a makeshift bridge.

    Remedios opens his paper sack. There's a chicken breast sandwich, a can of beef stew, and apple and some orange juice. He tears his bag and lays half of it across his lap like a place mat.

    Rescue specialist Rachelle LeFur lies on a piece of tin roofing, shielding her eyes from the sun that has melted the fruit gummies into a red blob. She lives on Key Largo, and she can't help thinking about the damage Hurricane Rita must have done there.

    "It's helpless," she says. "I'm not there to do anything. But you've got a job to do, so you have to do your job."

    Lunch is over in 45 minutes. Despite the mess all around them, Remedios reminds everyone to put their trash in the box so they can haul it out with them.

    They each put on fresh dust masks.

    ---

    As the day wears on, things begin to break down. The team keeps running into houses that bear markings indicating that the New Orleans police had already been there that day.

    By now, Jacobs is using his Halligan like a cane. The team climbs into the truck for the ride back to the staging area and decontamination.

    At the senior center, a tanker truck is waiting for them. Two pressure washers are humming beside it.

    One by one, the men and women of Task Force 1 step onto a black grate and get hosed down - their boots, their pants, flashlights and tools. Remedios and Jacobs strip down to their shorts, stuff their clothes and helmets into red plastic bags, then pull on white polyethylene clean suits with attached gray booties.

    The process takes more than two hours.

    Back at the BOO, the crew get briefed and debriefed.

    The Florida group hit nearly 700 houses this day. Squad 1 didn't find any bodies, but they learn the task force found five.

    There were no live rescues.

    Jacobs takes an ice-cold shower and calls his family. Remedios sits down to write the day's journal entry.

    He writes about the "huge bruise" on his leg. He writes that the area they searched this day "was probably the worst of all."

    He doesn't mention the bodies.

    After another briefing, the squad beds down for the night. As he lies in his cot, trying to capture sleep, Remedios says a silent prayer for the people they've found that day.

    Then he says another for his family.

    ---

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Allen G. Breed is the AP's Southeast regional writer, based in Raleigh, N.C.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  2. #2
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    Before anyone jumps on me for not mentioning someone...this is only one story I found.....

    I know that crews from Jacksonville, Pinellas County, Hillsborough County, Spring Hill, Hernando County and the City of Brooksville as well as others across the state were at one time or another involved in this national disaster. In fact a crew from Brooksville is still in Pasagoula Miss.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  3. #3
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    Fire chief finds ‘magnitude’ of damage ‘enormous’
    16 Sep 2005
    By Jason Holland News-Gazette Staff Writer
    One hundred miles of shoreline devastated. Ninety percent of structures destroyed. A storm surge that reached 14 miles inland. Tens of thousands of peopling struggling with lost homes and lost workplaces.

    That’s how Kissimmee Fire Chief Bob King, head of an incident management team that traveled to Mississippi’s Hancock County Sept.12, described the hurricane-ravaged area in which he and the rest of the team are working.

    “It’s beyond anything anybody could have planned for,” said King of the devastation. “The magnitude is enormous.”

    In a teleconference attended by Osceola County and city of Kissimmee officials Thursday, King outlined the challenges the team faces daily and its needs.

    The incident management team is comprised of personnel from Osceola, Orange, Marion, Volusia and Sumter counties and headquartered in Hancock County. Osceola County sent a senior computer technician, as well as emergency services planning and logistics staff.

    There is also support in relief efforts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross.

    King explained the team is supplementing a three-person staff at the Hancock County emergency operations center and training the local group to eventually take over. Help from other states is expected when the Florida team leaves in about a week, said King.

    “Our role is to support and develop an incident management team,” said King.

    King said much of Hancock County’s emergency operations staff, like 28,000 of the county’s residents, is homeless, living in shelters if they are lucky or otherwise in tents or under tarps. Despite those conditions they are hard at work, said King, and a similar attitude can be found among local citizens.

    “The resilience of these people is amazing,” he said.

    King stressed that the lack of shelter is a major problem with summer heat and expected rain. He urged donations of large, heavy-duty military style 10-20 man tents to the area. They must serve as homes for several months as the rebuilding process begins.

    He also asked for cleaning supplies, everything from cleaning products to brooms and shovels to assist in cleaning up and removing debris.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  4. #4
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    Relief trip puts firefighter on front line of destruction

    By MARK I. JOHNSON
    Staff Writer

    Last update: September 17, 2005

    NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- When Mike Coats rolled into the Mississippi Gulf Coast about a week after Hurricane Katrina, he was unprepared for the devastation that unfolded before his eyes.
    "Hurricane Andrew was an afternoon thunderstorm compared to what (Katrina) did," the veteran New Smyrna Beach firefighter said. "I never knew anything on Earth could cause so much damage."

    It was a telling statement coming from a man who saw firsthand the aftermath of Andrew in South Florida in 1992 -- and Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina in 1989. He also experienced the 1998 wildfires and the three storms that battered his own community last year.

    Coats, 40, said in the wake of Katrina there were houses moved blocks away from their foundations by storm surges that were estimated at 35 feet.

    "We found people drowned on the second floor of buildings," he said.

    Coats described entire neighborhoods wiped flat as a tabletop by Katrina's fury.

    "The only thing left standing in the town of Waveland, Miss., was a 4 by 6 by 10-foot piece of concrete wall that was City Hall," he said.

    Coats traveled to the Biloxi, Gulfport and surrounding communities with a pumper/tanker strike team organized by Volusia County Fire Services to help local firefighters, many of whom had lost everything in the storm.

    "We were their water supply," he said. "There were no hydrants working."

    From 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Coats' crew stood watch at a makeshift command post under a gas station awning in the town of Pass Christian about 30 minutes west of Biloxi. They shared the awning with a dispatcher's house, which had been pushed to the site from two blocks away by the storm surge.

    When they weren't working as firefighters, Coats said the men handed out relief supplies, provided decontamination services for other emergency responders and conducted house-to-house searches.

    "That was the hardest part," he said.

    Coats said there were homes where everything -- furniture, appliances, clothing, drywall, and ceilings -- was a massive wet pile in the middle of the floor, sometimes with a body buried underneath.

    "They (bodies) had been there for seven days," Coats said. "We were the first team to search. The whole area smelled."

    Coats said the team searched about 20 homes in the region and three contained human remains.

    When they were off duty, Coats said crews camped at a base camp outside the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi where they tried to sleep outside under a blister sun on lawn chairs scrounged from the piles of hurricane debris. Before finding the chairs, the men slept in the hose beds of their trucks.

    "If you did not bring it, it was not available," he said of routine necessities such as sleeping cots.

    Upon reflection, Coats said what he witnessed proves just how vulnerable coastal cities, such as his own, are to nature's fury. It is something he will never forget.

    "Whole cities were gone," he said. "It is hard to believe."

    But that would not stop him from going back.

    "They need help out there," he said.

    mark.johnson@news-jrnl.com
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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