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San Diego teams stand by to aid in Isaac relief

A group of San Diego fire, search and rescue teams are on standby Tuesday, awaiting orders to deploy in response to Hurricane Isaac.
San Diego teams stand by to aid in Isaac relief

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Two San Diego Fire-Rescue Department personnel were sent to the Gulf Coast Tuesday in advance Hurricane Isaac's arrival, while the rest of their urban search and rescue team were on standby.

"Everything's packed on 12 pallets and ready to be loaded onto trucks and driven (to the storm zone)," San Diego Fire-Rescue spokesman Maurice Luque said. "We're just kind of waiting,"

Hurricane Isaac was headed for Louisiana at about eight mph Tuesday afternoon and the Category 1 hurricane, with winds up to about 90 mph, is expected to make landfall this evening.

A SDFRD battalion chief and a captain from the roughly 70-member California Task Force 8 team were flown into Houston, then driven to Alexandria, La., to meet with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and a Texas task force, Luque said.

"At that point is when decisions are made about what other teams may or may not be needed and where people need to go and how many more resources need to be deployed," Luque said.

Members of the San Diego-based task force, made up primarily of firefighters from countywide agencies, doctors, structural engineers and four working dogs, is the first in FEMA's rotation to respond to a disaster or an emergency.

Two of its three teams were deployed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.

On Monday, the San Diego and Imperial county chapters of the American Red Cross sent five disaster workers to the Gulf Coast. Courtney Pendleton of the agency said the five locals were sent to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to help with storm-related duties.

Barry La Forgia, executive director of San Diego-based International Relief Teams, said Monday he has been on the phone with public health officials in Gulf states check on licensing requirements for medical teams that might be deployed from San Diego.

La Forgia said someone with the Department of Nursing in Mississippi told him that Isaac was "a small storm compared to Katrina," and that the news media was "overblowing it."

He disagreed.

"Hurricanes are unpredictable," La Forgia said. "That thing could sit out (in the Gulf of Mexico) and strengthen to a Category 2."

Hurricanes are rated from 1-5, with 5 being the strongest. Though hurricane-force winds can be destructive, most property damage is wrought by the surge of sea water pushed ashore. The surge along the Louisiana coast may be 10 feet or more -- enough to inundate much of the low-lying area around New Orleans.

IRT had medical teams in Mississippi for three months following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to provide basic medical support services, such as making sure chronically ill people were taking their medicine, treating wounds and giving tetanus shots, he said. Nearly 40 volunteer construction teams sent to the area helped repair or rebuild homes -- the last one earlier this year.

La Forgia said he had no idea whether a response will even be needed this time.

"We're just kind of monitoring the situation right now," La Forgia said.

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