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MONDAY, 09.12.05: P-1 Member special report from hurricane ground zero

PoliceOne member Chief Jeff Chudwin of Olympia Fields (IL) PD has been dispatched as part of a team of Illinois-based first responders to the epicenter of Hurricane Katrina. Their mission is to aid in rescue, recovery and clean-up efforts. Jeff shares first-hand accounts of his team's monumental challenges and poignant experiences in frequent reports from the field. PoliceOne received the following message the morning of Monday, September 12, 2005:

Hello friends,

I wanted to write of yesterday's work but returned so tired I could not do more than send some photos.

It requires some time so I may have to sign off before completing...

On Monday Team F complimented by Patrol Team E members traveled to the FEMA staging area and compound in New Orleans. It is an immense operation in size and scope. They are organized and equipped and everybody and thing is there that can assist this disaster.

I cannot say how this was managed initially. That is up to you to decide based on the historical data. I can say that they know their business.

We were teamed up with the USAR, Urban Search and Rescue, Fast Water Rescue Unit Task Force 6 of River Side Cal. Chief Dave Lesh commanding.

Our group was headed by Captain John Russell and manned by Fire Fighters Eric Peniata, Bob Linden, and Steve McKinster.

The rest of the team Mike Koury, Dave Bakas, Tony Burciago, Ed Turan, Todd Gooch, Wayne Hess, Greg Bluma, Andy Lanyi, and Randy Malacarne deserve recognition.

These men flew on a C5-A from California, landed in Alexandria LA and drove to New Orleans. They set down and had TEN MINUTES to deploy. This, the day after the Hurricane struck. They saved 250 people that night. At a grade school they had dozens including children trapped on a second floor. They could only take 4 at a time and children were first. They had no security support as we have provided and they said they had to be stern with those who tried to force the line.

Their first job was in high water next to the refinery that was leaking. It was terrible conditions on the water. These men work from boats and large jet ski-type craft, which does not put you in the water so you do not get wet if going slowly.

They had coordinates of trapped people and responded, working into the night. Darkness is not your friend in these operations and later they were pulled off any night hours. This is frustrating as all these men--and all of us--do not want to stop. But keeping track of personnel is difficult in daylight and safety must have some play in this, although you know how rescue folks are as to risking their safety. They do so without hesitation.

Amazing...Team 6 located a woman who had been trapped by the water on a ladder leading to an attic. She had taken some water and food and likely stayed in the attic at night. It was too hot during the day. By rationing her meager supplies she survived for twelve days until found. She was emaciated and could not walk unsupported, but she was alive. But for the work of these men and other, she too would have perished.

Our work with them was to check on locations where 911 Emergency calls originated or where they were directed to by relatives or friends concerned about some loved one or friend. Thousands of these exist and slowly all are being checked. You can imagine the work just to reach one location, many of which are under or covered in water.

We provided security for the team who greatly appreciated our presence. The dogs now are packing together and they are sick and hungry and looking bad. It is a pitiful sight and they approach you, some wagging tails. We are all dogs lovers and we give them our food and water and I write down the street or address and we search for the animal welfare folks. These men and women are true heroes. They travel at risk to all places to help animals of all types.

During our search we found a yard with three large dogs locked inside the gated area. They had access to the house but has no food and were in the water up to their chest eating garbage floating by. A half block away one of the troops with us said he saw a horse. As we moved up, there were actually five horses. If you look at the photo you see the high water mark and it was HIGH.

We moved back to our dry-land base point for the neighborhood and--amazingly--the animal rescue docs and nurses from Tulsa who were doing horse rescue just happened to be there. Now what are the chances in a city this size, in turmoil and destruction, that these few people would be with us in the same neighborhood at same street, at the same time?! The Good Lord sees to all.

They asked if we saw any horses. We said yes and they we excited. We told them we saw 5 and they were on the job.

Just informed we have to head out...

More to follow.

Stay safe.



Chief Jeff Chudwin
Olympia Fields (IL) PD

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