Hurricane Ike’s fierce assault on eastern Texas left behind wreckage and a disheveled landscape that a fire-and-rescue worker said he had never witnessed before.
Even in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.
High winds scooped boats from a marina and flung them like thimbles.
Trees were uprooted.
Houses were reduced to piles of rubble.
“You saw most of the devastation because it was out in the open,” said Mark LePino, 47, a Clark County Fire Department engineer, describing Galveston and other hurricane-ravaged cities.
By contrast, Katrina’s destruction was hidden beneath floodwaters while he was there in 2005, LePino said.
LePino was one of 34 local government workers who spent almost three weeks in the Gulf Coast, helping with search-and-rescue efforts after hurricanes Gustav and Ike hurled a brutal one-two punch on the region.
The workers were part of Nevada Taskforce-1, a team designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help out after natural disasters. Workers returned home Thursday and Friday.
There are 28 such teams across the country put on regular rotation, said Alan Osborne, the county’s deputy fire chief.
Of the 34 team members who went to the Gulf Coast, 24 are firefighters from Clark County, Henderson and North Las Vegas, he said.
The team deployed three weeks ago to help with search efforts in Louisiana after Gustav’s siege.
Then workers were sent to Houston, where they were housed in Reliant Stadium until Ike passed before helping to find survivors of that storm.
Sam Fowler, 39, a county fire-prevention officer, told of how displaced families approached him, saying they were hungry, thirsty and in need of medication.
“When you see kids, that kind of gets to you,” Fowler said. “They talk to you about not having food and water.”
Fowler said the hurricane damage far surpassed wildfire destruction he had seen in California.
Houses were torn from their foundations, he said. Boats were strewn across the freeway.
LePino recalled seeing floodwater lines etched 35 feet high across apartment buildings.
His job was to find survivors inside dwellings, using four Labradors trained to sniff out humans and dangerous carbon monoxide gases, he said.
That was different from when he was part of a helicopter crew that pulled Katrina victims from the rooftops of houses surrounded in water.
In Beaumont, Texas, rescue teams loaded patients removed from hospitals and nursing homes onto C-130 planes, LePino said.
He estimated that teams put 90 to 100 patients on stretchers, filling six aircraft in one night.
During that evacuation, Bryan Morgan, 44, had his most memorable experience of the trip. He aided a 96-year-old woman who was born the day the Titanic sank.
She suffered from dementia, and her daughter insisted that the frail woman would die if forced to ride a bus.
The problem was that she was “ambulatory,” meaning she didn’t have to be carried on a stretcher, Morgan said. The rules called for ambulatory patients to be transported by bus.
Morgan, who helps oversee the canine unit, said he lied to National Guard authorities, telling them that the elderly woman was not ambulatory.
The woman was boarded onto a plane. Her daughter flew with her and was overjoyed.
“It was a pleasant thing, helping them out of Beaumont,” Morgan said.
Contact reporter Scott Wyland at 702-455-4519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.