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Corps sends Libby man to Gulf Coast

| September 2, 2005 12:00 AM

Libby resident Mark Andreasen, a veteran with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is among the many emergency workers heading toward the Hurricane Katrina disaster area along the Gulf Coast.

He left Monday for Dallas, Texas, and flew from there to Shreveport, La., said Mick Shea, project manager at Libby Dam for the Corps.

"With this huge of a disaster, you don't know what you're going to be assigned to," Shea said. "It could be everything from potable water to levee reconstruction."

Shea said he joined the Corps' recovery effort in Florida for Hurricane Andrew in 1993.

"I was put in charge of rebuilding all the schools in Dade County with a $1 billion budget," he said.

In the wake of Katrina, a Category 4 hurricane when it struck the Louisiana and Mississippi coastline late Monday, at least 110 people have died in Mississippi and between 55 and 100 known

deaths in the New Orleans area. Media reports indicate rescuers are pushing aside bodies floating in the flood watgers to get to the living stranded in attics of homes or sitting atop roofs.

The storm tore out a 200-foot section of levee protecting New Orleans, which is 14 feet below sea level, from Lake Ponchatrain. Another section of levee also washed out, flooding much of the city.

The Corps of Engineers was attempting to drop 3,000-pound sand bags into the breaches to slow the flooding.

Utility companies in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama report at least 2.3 million customers or 5 million people have been left without electricty and it could be weeks before the damage is repaired.

Residents of New Orleans, with a population of 485,000, were under a mandatory evacuation order prior to the storm hitting land. About 80 percent of the population complied. Nearly 10,000 people sought shelter in the Superdome in downtown New Orleans and that number has swelled to as many as 20,000. Rescue efforts are considering evacuating those people to the Astrodome in Houston via buses since the interstate is presently above the rising flood waters, according to several news reports.

All fire and emergency services departments are being urged not to respond to counties and states affected by Hurricane Katrina without being requested and lawfully dispatched by state and local authorities under mutual aid agreements and the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, according to Michael D. Brown, undersecretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response and head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"The response to Hurricane Katrina must be well coordinated between federal, state and local officials to most effectively protect life and property," Brown said. "We appreciate the willingness and generosity of our Nation's first responders to deploy during disasters. But such efforts must be coordinated so that fire-rescue efforts are the most effective possible."

It is "critical" that fire and emergency departments across the country remain in their jurisdictions until the affected states request assistance, said U.S. Fire Administrator R. David Paulison.

"State and local mutual aid agreements are in place as is the Emergency Management Assistance Compact and those mechanisms will be used to request and task resources needed in the affected areas," he said

Paulison said the National Incident Management System is being used during the response to Hurricane Katrina and that self-dispatching volunteer assistance could significantly complicate the response and recovery effort.