Water Rescue Team From Louisville Faces Daunting Task In New Orleans - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Water Rescue Team From Louisville Faces Daunting Task In New Orleans

By Eric Flack

(LOUISVILLE) -- For the first time, we have accounts from a local rescue worker heading up search and recovery teams in New Orleans. He says there is devastation on an unimaginable scale. Meanwhile, another group of Jefferson County Water Rescue Team members headed South Thursday to help save Katrina victims from the stagnant flood waters. WAVE 3 Investigator Eric Flack reports.

The images of flood victims from New Orleans resemble something close to hell. And no matter how disturbing the scenes unfolding on TV are, Travis Bell with Louisville's swift water rescue team says it's 10 times worse than it looks.

"The people are at their wits' end -- they give you this look of desperation," Bell said, speaking via cell phone from the rescue staging area in Baton Rouge. "They don't care, they just want to get away from where New Orleans is, and we can't help them. We don't have the resources here to make that happen right now."

Bell, a commander with the water rescue team, says his 30-man squad is working 15-hour days, but it is simply not enough.

"We've met up with numerous families that are toting a deceased family member with them," Bell said.

"All the hospitals here in the downtown area, I know of three of them that have no generators, no oxygen, no drugs. (Patients) are basically waiting for people to come get them. If not, these folks are going to die in these hospitals."

Fourteen more water rescue personnel packed up Wednesday evening to head south and relieve exhausted team members. They say they have no idea what they are getting themselves into.

"I don't know, I really don't know what I'm going to expect," said team member Mark Burns.

New Orleans is such a mess right now that the water rescue team must bring everything they'll possibly need with them -- everything from food and water to toilet paper, and body bags.

Right now the natural disaster is so huge, FEMA is overwhelmed. The Jefferson County Water Rescue Team is on its own.

And while they are closing in on 400 rescues, after just three days, Bell says the people they can't they can't help are hardest to forget.

"It's killing us, it's wrenching," Bell said. "These kids, these elderly folks that are looking at us. As soon as we feel like we accomplished something, we go around the next street corner, the next one- way street, and there's another 300 people staring us in the face."

The fresh crew on its way to New Orleans had mental health counselors in tow to help the men and women from the water rescue team deal with all they are seeing and experiencing. Members will also get counseling when they return home.

They are hoping everyone will be back by the middle of next week.

Online Reporter: Eric Flack

Online Producer: Michael Dever

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