Reporters embedded with National Guard during Hurricane Isaac water rescue

WVLA-TV
Friday, August 31, 2012 - 2:50pm

For all the warnings we hear from government officials, some people will always be stranded in rising floodwaters during a hurricane. That makes some of the most important people in a storm's response the National Guard members who risk their safety to help others.

The members of the Louisiana Army National Guard's 256th Brigade Special Troops Battalion quickly finished their lunches Wednesday afternoon when the call went out for a high water rescue mission in LaPlace. A dozen of them were called into immediate duty.

But even for workers as well trained in disaster response as National Guard members, an operation like this rarely goes as planned, and Wednesday was no exception.

"The problem was getting to the people that needed to be helped," said Lt. Col. Henry Capello. "Different rerouting; moving around; going around different places where we didn't know what kind of situations we'd encounter; fording high water sites, and then finding out that some of them couldn't be forded, even with our high water vehicles that we have in the military."

Since Hurricane Isaac was just starting to affect Louisiana, information about damage wasn't always accurate. That included the route along Interstate 55 provided by the Louisiana State Police.

Due to flooded streets and off-ramps, the drive from Plaquemine to LaPlace took nearly seven hours.

When they arrived, state police troopers took boats through the flooded streets, knocked on doors, and brought residents back to the soldiers' trucks.

As Wednesday evening went on, it became clear that 12 soldiers would not be enough.

"Under Governor Jindal, he dictated that we get a big surge of soldiers here," Capello said. "Myself, I have 200 soldiers in the area. Plus, the other units brought another 200 soldiers."

Evacuees brought their luggage, their pets, and their families to escape the floods. Soldiers took them to a nearby church, where dozens of busses were waiting to ferry them to higher, drier ground.

After an hour of rest, teams of soldiers went back into flooded neighborhoods at 3:30 a.m. Thursday. Flooding in some areas had started to subside overnight, but many residential streets remained impassible for small cars.

And the National Guard will remain the first phone call for residents in distress during hurricane season.

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