News and Activities

Contaminants Program Involvement in Responding to Hurricane Katrina

Date Posted: October 20, 2005

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall near the Mississippi-Louisiana border. High winds and storm surges caused extensive damage in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Coastal communities were hardest hit. Among the environmental concerns resulting from the hurricane was the release of a wide variety of hazardous materials from the thousands of industrial, commercial, and residential facilities damaged or destroyed by the storm.

As part of the natural disaster response efforts, the Fish and Wildlife Service is participating on a multi-agency Task Force addressing oil and hazardous materials released during the storm. Ten federal, state and local agencies are participating on the task force, including the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Department of the Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alabama Department of Environmental Protection, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, and other. FWS response efforts is serving a dual role of assisting the Task Force in their efforts to protect life and property while fulfilling the FWS mission to protect and preserve fish and wildlife.

FWS's primary role has been to identify and characterize hazardous materials in ecologically sensitive environments, including waterways, wetlands, and shorelines. Following the rapid initial identification of immediate threats in these areas, FWS conducted a systematic survey of the coast lines, coastal rivers, and wetlands across Alabama and Mississippi. Assessments are being conducted using a combination of helicopter surveys (to identify primary targets, such as large above-ground storage tanks in marshes) and boat operations (to evaluate the status of the primary targets and to identify smaller targets, such as smaller containers of hazardous materials). FWS has also been advising the Task Force on methods to minimize ecological impacts during removal operations. FWS personnel involved in the operations include Environmental Contaminant (EC) staff from Daphne AL Field Office, Panama City FL Field Office, Frankfurt KY Field, Jackson MS Field Office, Southeastern Regional Office, Region 1 Office, and the Washington Office. Through October 5, FWS has collectively dedicated more than 2,000 hours to assessment and removal activities.

As of October 20, the Task Force responded to more than 3,200 separate incidents along the Alabama and Mississippi coastline. An incident response is defined as an investigation of a National Response Center Report, assessing facilities, and reporting hazmat debris while conducting land or water assessment in the affected areas. Accomplishments as of October 4 include: " assessment of approximately 140,000 square miles of waterways and coastal zones and nearly 6,400 miles of shoreline in Alabama and Mississippi; " resolution of 2,315 of 2,380 cases reported to the Coast Guard and EPA; " assessment of 504 vessels grounded or deposited inland along coastal areas for potential oil discharges; " collection of more than 10,000 hazardous material containers, such as drums, tanks, cylinders, containers and batteries; " recovery of about 43,000 gallons of fuel; and " assessment of more than 200 facilities.

FWS completed its assessment of sensitive environments on October 11. FWS is continuing to provide advisement and assistance for removal operations on a project-specific basis, such as the extraction of vessels, above-ground storage tanks, and other environmental hazards from sensitive marsh areas.

September 12, 2005: Presently, Contaminants staff in the Region covering the Hurricane-impacted area are involved in identifying hazardous materials and setting priorities for clean-up. The U.S. Coast Guard has agreed to open a Pollution Funding Removal Authorization (PFRA) to fund Service contaminant cleanup activities in Alabama and Mississippi. As of September 12, 2005, no PFRA had been opened in Louisiana, however, one should be opened within the next few days. As search and rescue activities are completed and focus on environmental cleanup increases, Contaminant specialists from other Fish and Wildlife Service Regions are expected to join the evaluation and cleanup process.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region - External Affairs Office (404) 679-7287

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region - Hurricane Katrina/Rita Report: September 29-10, 2005 (pdf file. No longer Available.)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - News Release, September 12, 2005: Service works to Save Lives, Provide Aid in Katrina's Wake

Last updated: June 12, 2015