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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Among First Responders for Hurricane Katrina Relief


September 9, 2005

Contacts: Jim Rothschild, 404/679-7299
Jeff Fleming, 404/679-7287

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has rescued hundreds of citizens in coastal Louisiana and Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast 10 days ago.  At the same time, the agency continues to clear miles of roadways, support local police and fire department officials, establish emergency corridors to speed the delivery of relief aid, open access to the Louisiana Heart Hospital, and provide critical help to Red Cross relief workers.

“The support that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided to Lacombe has been outstanding. I want to thank you all of you for the great help from feeding us to clearing our roads.  It has been a blessing to have you here.” said Charles Flynn, Fire Chief of St. Tammany parish Fire District 3.

Employees of the Service normally are involved with the management of wildlife and natural resources and with management of National Wildlife Refuges.  Now, they are focused on assisting the people and communities of Louisiana and Mississippi ravaged by the Hurricane.

Today, nearly 200 employees including U.S. Forest Service personnel are working in the areas affected by the hurricane. A full-service base of operations is in place with food services, temporary housing, shower facilities for the ICT, local law enforcement other emergency services personnel, and hurricane relief workers.  

“Our employees are motivated to help here.” said Tom Crews, Incident Command Team leader. “We may be a small part of this huge task but we are playing a vital role here.  From the highest levels to the people on the ground we are getting total support to help us with this mission.”

Southwest of New Orleans another response team based out of the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge is conducting Search and Rescue missions. The
19 FWS employees are working with  the St. Bernard Parish Fire Station in Arabi, LA. To date, the Mandalay group has cleared several sections of the parish going house to house searching for survivors.  The agency's crew so far has discovered six survivors and evacuated them.  In addition, they are assisting a mortuary team dealing with 35 fatalities at a nursing home, and responding to 911 calls in Bernard parish, mostly in the Arabi-Mereaux area.

Other tasks accomplished by the Service’s recovery efforts in the week since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast:

  • By Wednesday, August 31, the Service accounted for the safety and whereabouts of all its roughly 150 employees and their families stationed along the Gulf Coast.

  • The Service's response teams have rescued nearly 400 citizens.  Wednesday, the Service’s law enforcement agents played a key role in rescuing the crew of a downed helicopter and also rescued two national guardsmen who were moving to assist in that rescue but were thrown into the water when their airboat flipped.  FWS employees rescued CNN contributor Donna Brazile's sister.

  • The Service continues to support the overall FEMA recovery effort working along with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to clear roads and driveways in local neighborhoods.  During this operation, families in five homes trapped by fallen trees and debris were freed.

  • Service personnel have cleared several miles of roads, established emergency corridors, opened access to local hospitals including the Louisiana Heart Hospital, which the Service also provides over 200 meals a day for staff and patients.

  • Ongoing support of roughly 100 Red Cross volunteers as well as providing meals to local police officers and firefighters.

  • Continued commitment of Service employees to work aggressively and provide relief and assistance for local citizens.

A team of about 200 U.S. Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service heavy equipment operators, chain saw operators, law enforcement personnel and support specialists have expanded recovery efforts into the towns of Slidell and Lacombe Louisiana.
“We have developed a great deal of experience in the past few years responding to the aftermath of hurricanes.” said Sam Hamilton, regional director for the Service’s Southeast Region. “I’m proud of the way our employees responded and were among the first to be on the scene to help start putting people’s lives together.  I am not surprised by the commitment our employees are demonstrating to our fellow citizens in this difficult time.  We are a 'can do' organization.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.

Photos of Hurricane Katrina

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