As always, firefighters were early participants in the aftermath activity of the Columbia Shuttle explosion. The wreckage debris area in eastern Texas centered around Hemphill and Nacogdoches along the Louisiana border.
Federal authorities gravitated to the firehouses here, to organize the search effort. Several media outlets had accounts about local departments and firefighters:
Rows of tables were set up where firetrucks would normally be housed. Some tables had food for volunteers others were pushed together with maps strewn across them.
Among the agencies were NASA, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Rangers, State Health Department, Jasper, Newton and Sabine County Sheriff Offices, the Sabine County Fire Department, Jasper Fire Department, Tri-Community Fire Department, Beaumont's Emergency Management Authorities, the Jasper County Incident Management Team and Hazmat, FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshal's Office and the American Red Cross.
Department of Defense officials were late on their way to Hemphill Saturday afternoon.
"Our main goal today is to find human remains found through the debris field," Gunter said.
In a sober reminder of the human cost of Saturday's disaster, a burned torso was found near Hemphill Saturday, the remnants of a space suit a few hundred yards away. A crew member's burned helmet was found in adjacent San Augustine County. Searchers reported finding other body parts, charred shoes, mission patches and other personal effects across the southern part of the debris field.
Gunter would not disclose specific areas of today's search, nor were reporters allowed to accompany those involved in the search for human remains. Searchers walk shoulder-to-shoulder in a straight line.
Gunter said volunteer firefighters and area residents are helping out in the search: "There's a lot of people who just feel the need to do something. They know this area, this terrain, and they're here to help," he said.
If remains are found, Gunter said the area will be marked and the information turned over to NASA and the FBI, who will then be in charge of collecting and removing the remains.
At the Douglass Volunteer Fire Department, firefighters gathered around a small television in one of the bays, listening to updates about the tragedy. In anticipation to what may turn out to be a long haul, a table had been set up with refreshments and sandwich fixings.
"We called all our firefighters in," said Chief Larry Hobson. "They're here on a strictly volunteer basis. We're helping them secure the areas around the debris. it's unbelievable how many pieces are out there.
"We don't know what it was," he said. "It was about 6 inches by 2 inches."
Sanders said his son removed the debris from the roof before he knew what it was. He said a number of people have gone to the emergency room to receive treatment after having touched the debris. He said none of these people received actual injuries.
"People started reporting debris falling from the sky," Selman said. He said he and Henderson were answering calls before they knew what was producing the falling particles.
"We've been trying to find pieces and keep people from touching it or taking it," Selman said.
Selman said he located a large "piece of twisted metal."
"It was about (two feet) long and (one inch) thick," Selman said, using hand gestures. He said a bystander had delivered the object to the sheriff's department before NASA advised residents not to touch or go near any located material.
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