BIG ASSIST

LDWF Enforcement Agents Put Their Search-And-Rescue Expertise To Good Use Helping Texas During Hurricane Harvey Flood Event

story by Adam Einck, LDWF Public Information

For Lee Davis, it was personal.

The 19-year Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Senior Agent witnessed the devastating floods of Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas in August up close as a part of the search and rescue effort to aid the victims of the storm.

The LDWF Enforcement Division offered a huge helping hand to its Texas neighbors and rescued 1,513 people and 193 pets in the Lone Star state during one of its worst ever natural disasters in late August and early September.

Like the rest of the LDWF agents on the mission, Davis was glad to help. But as a former Texas resident, it meant even more to him. Liberty County, Texas, in the middle of Harvey’s flooding fury, was once his home.

“I used to live in Liberty County in Texas and was actually familiar with some of the areas we were in,’’ Davis said. “I also have family ranging from Vidor to Houston to Liberty. Everyone I met was extremely gracious that we were there to help. There were no divisive barriers. Just people caring for each other and neighbors helping neighbors.”

Few other groups have the experience and expertise LDWF enforcement agents possess when it comes to search and rescue. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, agents have participated in a multitude of flooding events, rescuing thousands of people in the process.

In 2005, LDWF agents rescued more than 20,000 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and hundreds more in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita just a month later. In 2008, agents again rescued hundreds of people in the aftermath of hurricanes Gustav and Ike. They also participated in search and rescues after Hurricane Isaac in 2011 where they rescued 1,667 people along with 161 pets. Finally in 2016, agents rescued a total of 3,971 people and 760 pets during two different flood events with one in March of that year in northern Louisiana and another in August in southern Louisiana.

All of these major flooding events have one thing in common. They all happened within the state borders of Louisiana and involved agents helping their own Louisiana citizens.

Some of these major flood events included outside search and rescue help from state agencies such as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Enforcement Division and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Enforcement Division.

Every hurricane season LDWF agents keep a close eye on the Gulf of Mexico for possible Louisiana landfalls that would require their search and rescue assistance. This year proved to be no different as several named storms found the Gulf of Mexico with Hurricane Harvey making landfall in Texas southwest of Houston on Aug. 25 as a category four hurricane.

Harvey spun over Texas for a few days dumping a deluge of rain before re-entering the Gulf of Mexico and then making another landfall on Aug. 30 just west of Cameron in Louisiana. This slow moving storm dropped more than 50 inches of rain in some parts of the Houston and Beaumont areas in just a matter of days, flooding a large part of the population.

Louisiana and the LDWF enforcement division is part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), which is a national interstate mutual aid agreement that enables states to share resources during times of disaster. The state and agency which requests EMAC help is then basically in charge of the resources that they receive, which includes lodging, meals, direction on missions and when they are released.

“We received the request from Texas Parks and Wildlife through our EMAC agreement that they needed help from states such as Louisiana because we had the agents with experience in search and rescue missions and resources for these type of flooding events,” said Lt. Col. Spencer Cole, who coordinated with Texas officials to bring Louisiana agents to Texas. “We really wanted to help them as we have been through the same thing here in our own state and they have helped us in the past.

“Our only slight hesitation was that Hurricane Harvey also posed a direct risk to Louisiana so we didn’t want all of our resources in Texas while we could potentially experience severe flooding back home. So we decided to send four alpha teams, which consisted of 40 agents with 40 trucks and 40 vessels on Aug. 26 and 27.”

One of those agents deployed on Aug. 27 was Davis, who participated in past flooding search and rescue events.

“I was part of a 10-man alpha team that deployed to Beaumont on Aug. 27,” said Davis. “On the 28th we were escorted from Beaumont to Houston, where we were assigned to work with the Houston Fire Department. We were at Station 36 near the Hobby Airport and started conducting search and rescue missions on the afternoon of the 28th.”

While assisting Texas with the flooded area, the LDWF Enforcement Division also had to keep a close eye on flooding situations in Louisiana. LDWF agents conducted search and rescue missions in Calcasieu Parish on Aug. 28 and into the morning of Aug. 29 and rescued a total of 26 people and two pets. Agents also rescued two more people on Aug. 30 in Sabine Parish.

“We were constantly trying to juggle our remaining resources in Louisiana and the threat of more flooding at home while also trying to help as much as possible with the dire situation ongoing in Texas,” said Cole.

The initial 40 agents were mostly assigned to the southern Houston and Katy areas and performed search and rescue missions until Aug. 30, rescuing 1,275 people and 128 pets in those areas.

One agent that participated in this initial round of rescues was Sgt. Wesley Duck, who is a 10-year veteran of the LDWF Enforcement Division. He said it was very challenging and that one rescue stood out from the others.

“In south Houston we had just loaded the boat up for the day when a young man walked up and said there was an elderly man trapped inside his home,” said Duck. “So we unloaded the boat and went to check on the house they were supposed to be in. Sure enough when we get there we find a man who has an oxygen machine who told us he gets sick very easily. So we loaded all of his medical equipment and wrapped him up tight to keep him warm and dry and got him and his equipment to dry land. To be able to help was very rewarding.”

LDWF agents in Texas said they worked well together with Texas search and rescue personnel.

“I didn’t notice any big differences in how Texas handles their search and rescue missions,” said Davis. “Texas is also no stranger to these types of events and everything worked similar to the way we have done things in the past.”

Davis said that the first responders he worked with had full radio and cell communication with their dispatchers and that he and his fellow LDWF agents had radio and cell communication with their team leaders. He said they would go to locations that needed help as they came in over the radio and based off of information of people they came into contact with.

“The first call I went on was with a Houston fireman to assist an older gentleman that had missed his dialysis treatment the day before due to the flooding,” said Davis. “We were able to transport him out so he could get his proper medical treatment.”

By Aug. 30 almost everyone in the Houston and Katy areas that needed assistance had already been evacuated so LDWF dispatched 38 of the original 40 agents with trucks and vessels to the Kirbyville and Deweyville areas of Texas.

These agents couldn’t take a direct route because Interstate 10 and other roads were flooded. They had to take an alternate route that took them north and then east back into Louisiana near Leesville before reentering Texas and finally to their destinations in east Texas.

LDWF also deployed an additional 33 agents with 29 trucks and 29 vessels to the Port Arthur and Orange areas in Texas on Aug. 30. On the night of Aug. 30 and into Aug. 31, these agents rescued an additional 98 people with 29 pets from the Port Arthur area.

“Once Houston no longer needed our assistance and the storm made a second landfall close to the Louisiana and Texas border we got the EMAC request to shift assets more east in Texas to the areas that needed the most help,” said Cole. “The first landfall really hammered the Houston area and second landfall really nailed the Beaumont area.”

The 71 agents with 67 trucks and 67 vessels remained in Texas until no longer needed, making rescues in Orange, Deweyville, Port Arthur and Kirbyville areas. These agents were able to rescue an additional 140 people and 36 pets during their time in Texas.

Duck recalls how he was able to help people from the flooded waters in Texas.

“It’s a great feeling to help people,’’ Duck said. “It’s a run of emotions leaving home and not knowing what you’re going into and what danger could come. We do it because we know we are helping people, many who had lost everything. We are well trained for these types of missions and it is always an honor to be a part of such a great group.”

Once back in Louisiana, Duck didn’t have much time to regroup because he was sent to Florida to help in Hurricane Irma search and rescue efforts.

“We no sooner get done with Hurricane Harvey and then we get another EMAC request from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Enforcement Division to help during Hurricane Irma,” said Cole.

LDWF sent 55 agents with 53 trucks, 50 vessels and a mobile command center to the Pensacola area on Sept. 10. These agents were then sworn in by The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement Division to enforce Florida laws while being deployed in Florida if need be.

These agents stayed in Florida until no longer needed and returned to Louisiana on Sept. 15. Agents patrolled some local waterways and stayed in areas that posed flood threats but they didn’t have to perform any search and rescues in the areas they were in.

“Luckily, Hurricane Irma didn’t flood areas as bad as they were expecting so we stayed in Florida until it was determined they wouldn’t need us anymore,” said Duck.

Col. Sammy Martin, head of the LDWF Enforcement Division, further added, “I’m really proud of all of our agents during these two hurricanes and especially proud of the ones that got deployed to help other states. These agents uprooted themselves leaving behind loved ones and their own homes to help other fish and wildlife agencies provide emergency services during a disaster. Florida and mostly Texas residents will be forever grateful of their unselfish sacrifice.”

Captions for Story (refer to PDF for which caption goes with each photo):

Members of an alpha team deploying from NE Louisiana huddling for a prayer before making the trek southwest to the Houston area.

LEFT: Corporal Chadwick Wood performing Search and Rescue missions in Texas helping evacuate an apartment complex.

RIGHT: Sgt. Byron Cammack rescues Demetria Fair and her four year old daughter that she tries to keep dry under a towel on Aug. 28.

Members of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Louisiana National Guard help rescue elderly people from the Golden Years Assisted Living home in Texas.

Senior Agent Lee Davis patrols a flooded neighborhood for people that need rescue while deployed to Texas.

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