Monday, September 05, 2005

My tour will not be anywhere near as traumatic

MOBILE, Ala. (Sept. 3, 2005) - Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Craig A. Miller, 40, of Ocean City, N.J., signs an ax today at the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center here. Coast Guard aircrews from around the country are flying to Mobile in response to Hurricane Katrina. The aircrews signed the ax as a symbol of the unorthodox methods they have used to rescue hurricane victims and will display the ax at the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in memory of those they rescued. Rescue swimmers used axes during rooftop rescues to save trapped victims. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 2nd Class NyxoLyno Cangemi.

If I do end up here in Portsmouth at the IMT, I can tell you that my tour will not be as exciting or as traumatic as those Coasties deployed south. I'll have a good handle on the big picture, but will be standing watch in a windowless room 1057 miles from the epicenter of our good work.

From today's Galveston County Daily News tales of Coasties doing what needs to be done:
Coast Guard crews tell tales of rescue
By Scott E. Williams
The Daily News

Published September 5, 2005

When James Hines left for New Orleans on Wednesday morning, he thought he was going on a logistics mission to help coordinate aircraft maintenance for rescuers there.

A few hours later, the Coast Guard chief warrant officer was hacking through a roof with an ax.

Coast Guard members at Ellington Field on Saturday were loading up a second C-130 airplane with food and supplies for flood victims in New Orleans.

Some of the people on the base already had plenty of chances to see the devastation up close.

Petty Officer Eric Sciubba, who got to New Orleans on Monday, said crewmembers found themselves trying rescue techniques never before attempted.

“Every swimmer up there had to chop someone out of a hole at some point,” he said.

In the past week, Coast Guard crews from Texas have rescued thousands of flood-stranded residents. Crewmembers came back with stories of harrowing rescues.

Hines said his logistics mission turned into a rescue mission almost as soon as his crew’s HH-65 helicopter touched down in Louisiana.

“They were so busy and had so many rescues that needed doing that we went right into it,” he said.

Hines said no news report or briefing had prepared him for the destruction he saw.

“Words can’t describe it,” he said. “It was unreal. When you’re up close and personal like that, it’s not like watching it on TV. All your senses kick in.”

Hines’ roof chopping occurred on the eastern bank of the city after his crew spotted an arm waving from the second story of a flooded house. A couple was trapped inside.

“They were stuck on the second floor,” Hines said. “I had to use an aircraft crash ax and chop through the roof to get to him, because their house didn’t have an attic with access to the roof.”

Hines’ helicopter lowered a hoist, and the crew lifted the couple to safety. Hines said the trapped residents were nearing the end of the line when they were rescued.

“They were literally down to their last ounce of drinkable water,” he said. “The wife had an ounce left in her bottle, and that was all that was left.”

Sciubba found three people in one house, including a 300-pound, mentally handicapped man who could not move on his own.

After getting the first two occupants into his helicopter, Sciubba found the larger man could not be lifted onto the aircraft through the window of the house.

He took his field knife and cut through the drywall around the window, pulled out the aluminum siding and then kicked through the wood that made up the wall’s paneling, as well as the frame, until he had a hole big enough to rescue the man.

At another house, an invalid woman was in even more peril than most in New Orleans. Her feeding tube had stopped working, and Sciubba found her in bed on her home’s first floor, with her head sticking out of the water.

The helicopter could not reach the stranded couple through the back yard, and with the front door locked, Sciubba said he knew time was his enemy.

Finally, the man who lived in the home got the door unlocked, and both were pulled to safety.

They were among the 109 people Sciubba’s crew rescued before returning to Ellington Field on Thursday.

“Amazingly, that woman was still alive,” Sciubba said.

Both Hines and Sciubba said they were just two of the many Coast Guard members who worked long hours without stopping, running not on food, water or sleep — all of which were in short supply — but on adrenaline.

Both men said senior officers had to order more than one crew to get some rest because the rescuers wanted to keep going, even though crews had arrived to relieve them.

“You know what you’re there to do, and you get to the point where you’re just a machine, and you just want to get out there and do it,” Sciubba said
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