LAFD History – Hurricane Katrina – LAFD Response

July 31, 2018

Frank’s Note: Hurricane Katrina was a devastating disaster for the gulf coast region of the USA. At the request from FEMA, the LAFD responded with a variety of desperately needed resources. The following story contains two articles published with first-hand accounts of the disaster followed by a summary I edited from an excellent LAFD Situation report. These reports were done on a daily basis. In all, Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people and affected some 90,000 square miles. According to FEMA, the total damage for Katrina is estimated at $108 billion.


USAR SWIFT WATER  – 14 Members
Mission: Utilizing boats and personal water craft to locate and rescue hurricane victims in and around New Orleans.
Base: Metarie, Louisiana at the New Orleans Saints
Football Training Camp.

USAR TASK FORCE (CATF-1) – 70 Members
Mission: Conduct technical search and rescue operations within the hotel/casinos damaged by hurricane.
Base: Gulfport, Mississippi

Mission: To assist local authorities.
Base: Deployed in and around New Orleans


L.A. Fire Teams
See Devastation in South up Close
By Josh Kleinbaum
Staff Writer Daily News
Photos added by Frank Borden

The 14 members of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s swift-water rescue team were shocked by the sight of ruin and desperation when they arrived this week on the outskirts of New Orleans, officials said Friday. While far from the Superdome and the convention center, where lawlessness and suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have grabbed headlines, the pain and suffering they witnessed was just as heart-rending.

“They were horrified,” Fire Department spokeswoman Melissa Kelly said. “There were dead bodies floating in the water. There were so many snakes and animals and all kinds of things that they stopped and purchased machetes for their own protection – protection from the elements, not the people.” On Wednesday, the team was deployed to a 2-mile-by-6-mile zone in Louisiana outside New Orleans, where they rescued 197 adults and 47 children, Kelley said.

But with victims crying for help everywhere, the firefighters were forced to prioritize – more critical victims became more desperate and the region descended into lawlessness, the rescue operation became too dangerous, and FEMA ordered the unit to pull back. “(They) went to people with immediate need,” Kelley said. “When you have a person who can survive for a couple hours and a person clinging to life, the person clinging to life is the person in immediate need, rather than the person walking around screaming about his broken ankle.” Prioritization is where people started getting angry. That’s why they were called off that night. We were told to stand down because of the uprising.”

Seventy more Los Angeles firefighters, from the department’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, left for Jackson, Miss. on Wednesday to join the relief effort. With telephone lines and other means of communication down, the LAFD can only communicate with the team through satellite phone, and only when the team calls Los Angeles. The team has not checked in since arriving in Dallas on Thursday morning to await their instructions, Kelly said.


Local Firefighter Recounts Scene in New Orleans

The Santa Clarita Valley Signal, September 9, 2005
Adam Clark Signal Staff Writer
Photos added by Frank Borden

You can’t necessarily see the bodies, but you can smell them, said veteran firefighter Brian LaBrie. In New Orleans since the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall, LaBrie, of Santa Clarita, said it is the worst disaster he has seen in his 17-year career as a swift water rescue specialist for the Los Angeles Fire Department. LaBrie was deployed to New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was in Oklahoma City for the bombing of the federal building in 1995, and he was in Los Angeles for the 1992 riots.

On Aug. 29, he and the 13 other members of his team were deployed to New Orleans where they have been rescuing hundreds of men, women and children.
People ask me to describe it. I tell them it’s the (Los Angeles) riots, Sept. 11 and the Sacramento floods all rolled into one, said LaBrie, who also is affiliated with FEMA and is part of a rescue team that is generally the first on site at any national disaster. LaBrie said he and members of his team have met death, destruction and violence at every turn. (There is) the massive destruction of the water and the flooding, he said. There is the violence where rescue workers are being shot at and boats are being stolen at gun point, and then there is the massive death (toll).

Despite the horrible conditions, LaBrie said he and his team have been bringing in survivors by the hundreds. Their first night in the water, they rescued 197 adults and 40 children. Some families have managed to stay together, he said, but many have been ripped apart. One of the hardest things to deal with are the orphans they find, he said. One particularly difficult situation involved four children who were brought in without parents. The police department was overloaded at the time and was unable to do anything, LaBrie said. Usually we would turn them over to the police department … we couldn’t do that this time because there were too many of them. We had to put them on the bus and send them to the shelter.
Many of the men have families of their own, so it was really hard for (them), LaBrie said.

The violence is also unbelievably bad, he said. His team had to stop going out at night because of looters. It was too violent at night, he said. Most of the looters come out at night. Even during the day, the rescue teams didn’t go out without armed patrol. We had DEA and military with us, he said. They all carried machine guns.

Worse than the violence are the water conditions, he said. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen. There were rumors of E. coli in there; we were swimming in raw sewage, dead bodies, chemicals (from) the chemical plant and pesticides, and a crude oil spill at one point, LaBrie said. He said the EPA has tested the water and is awaiting the results.
Despite the hardships, LaBrie and his team continue to work using every means available to them. One day all the teams had to be airlifted into an area because that was the only way to get there. LaBrie said they find people everywhere, on their roofs and in upper levels of houses that are not completely submerged.
Nevertheless, as many as 50 percent did not want to be rescued, he said.
A lot of them didn’t want to leave their pets, he said. We weren’t able to take pets because we couldn’t take a pet over another person


Situation Report Prepared by LAFD Special Operations Division, Homeland Security Intelligence Section. (Edited version)
September 5, 2005, 0800 HOURS PST

I. Situation Summary:

• The Coast Guard reports that over 22,785 survivors have been rescued so far. 9,400 patients have been evacuated from area hospitals.
• Federal officials chartered three Carnival Cruise Lines ships for six months to provide shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Two of these cruise ships will deploy to Galveston and will be used for elderly care and people with special needs. The third ship is scheduled to arrive in Mobile, Ala to begin lodging about 1,800 displaced persons.
• Seven Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) are now operational (6 in Alabama; 1 in Texas).
• 34,845 National Guard members from 42 states are currently deployed. 36,245 are anticipated to be in place by September 6.
• Chief Naval Operations (CNO) approved a waiver for civilian helicopter operations on board USN amphibious ships in support of relief operations.
• The USS BATAAN is in the region and is ready to begin accepting patients
• One destroyer and two frigates by Canadian Navy are expected to arrive on September 10 to assist as needed.
• England has offered aircraft and 1,100 tons of meals-ready-to-eat.
• The Department of Transportation is coordinating pharmaceutical shipments from the Netherlands and Canada.
• A total of 59 corpses have so far been recovered in New Orleans, officials said overnight, cautioning that the first official death toll from Hurricane Katrina was just a fraction of those killed.
• A total of 466 public water systems (serving 1.2 million people) have been negatively impacted and are not operating normally.
• A major oil spill into the Mississippi River was reported 30 miles south of New Orleans.
• An anhydrous ammonia leak occurred from an estimated 25,000 ton tank in the Bayou Casotte area of Pascagoula, MS
• The national preparedness increased to level 4 on September 1 in recognition of current and predicted support to Hurricane Katrina. National Preparedness Level 4 means two or more geographic areas are experiencing incidents requiring Type 1 Teams..

Reported Yesterday:

• A Eurocopter AS 332 Super Puma helicopter crashed northwest of downtown New Orleans Sunday evening. The pilot and crew sustained minor injuries and were rescued by the Coast Guard.
• CNN has developed a service to allow refugees and others affected by the hurricane to post their name and let others know that they are safe.
• Weather Forecast:

—                             Mon        Tue        Wed                Thu
General                 Isolated Thunderstorms       Mostly Sunny
High/Low             92°/74°  90°/73°  91°/72°          91°/73°
Precip. Chance    30%         30%       30%                 30%

Hurricane Maria continues to slowly strengthen. Warm waters have aided in Maria’s intensification as current sustained winds are now 90mph. Maria is located several hundred miles east of Bermuda and thankfully is forecast to move north and eventually to the northeast making no impact on the United States.

III. Current Actions:

CATF-1 (Team 3 – Swift Water Rescue) worked a full operational period yesterday (Sunday). They were airlifted to the same isolated area that they worked on Saturday. Many of the areas in this sector were only under one foot of water. Therefore, they commandeered a forklift, dump truck, and a fire truck to move about more easily. This enabled them to deliver meals-ready-to-eat and water too many of the residents that are still stranded in this area of Louisiana

Morale remains high, no injuries or illnesses have been reported, and they are now receiving full logistical support (showers, hot meals, decon, etc.).

CATF-1 (USAR) received deployment orders last night. They are en route to Gulfport Mississippi, approximately 580 miles from Dallas, where they will be assigned to work.

LAFD’s B/C Richard Warford, as part of an Incident Management Team, has been assigned to the FEMA Program Office in Washington DC

LAFD’s B/C Mark Saxelby and Captain Wade White, as part of an Incident Support Team, are currently deployed to Gulfport, Mississippi.

Reported yesterday:

This incident marks the first deployment of Swift Water Rescue resources as part of a FEMA deployment.

The LAFD still has three USAR Task Forces (FS 88, FS 27, FS 85) available to handle local incidents, if needed.

100 California Highway Patrol officers will be deployed to Louisiana.

IV. Miscellaneous Important Information:

Fatalities (Confirmed): No current update available for this report.

Louisiana       Mississippi       Alabama       Florida       Texas       Total
126*                185**                   2                  11                 1             325
*Estimates are in the thousands. **Estimates are in the hundreds.

The report continued with information on Security, Electrical Outages, Communications and Shelters (274,100 in shelters or in transit). The LAFD Swift Water and US&R Task Force (CATF 1) have responded to many California and US disasters since Katrina.

Comments are closed.

Back to Top