Area's rescuers comb stricken town

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 1:30 a.m.
BAY SAINT LOUIS, La. - Search and rescue teams from Marion and Alachua counties found total devastation Wednesday when they searched neighborhoods that had been turned into splintered lumber yards.
"Once we got a few blocks from the beach everything was pretty much flat. It went on for blocks and blocks," said Lt. Scott Ramage, of Marion County Fire Rescue.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall near the ocean-side town of 8,209 residents on Monday morning. The Category 4 storm pounded its eye wall through the town, which is about 30 miles east of New Orleans. On Wednesday cars and boats lay in the middle of streets, washed away by 30-foot storm surge up to two miles from the beach.
"We did recover one victim from a structure . . . She was pinned under a structure. We actually had to cut some of the building around her to get to her," Ramage said.
As firefighters rummaged through piles of debris, they met residents like Teri Lucas, 52. She braved the storm at her home, she said, because her parents who lived next door refused to leave.
"The current was so bad. It was flowing so fast," she said. "I kept saying we have to get out. And as we got out the front door, I saw their house go off the foundation."
Teri and her husband, Charles Lucas, were able to get out of the home when the water was about 5 feet high. Hours later, they found the bodies of her parents floating in a bedroom. They moved their bodies onto a raft and kept them in their flooded garage until their bodies were picked up Tuesday.
"My father kept telling my mother to just leave and she wouldn't," Teri said, weeping. "I was talking on the phone with her while the water was picking up the chairs and the bed in my house."
Whole neighborhoods were obliterated.
"We found devastation. It's wiped out. Nothing was standing," said Team Leader Nick Deviate, who is an Ocala Fire Rescue chief. "Houses were knocked off their foundations and pushed into the streets."
The team found one body on Wednesday. Details on the actual number of confirmed deaths in Bay Saint Louis were not available on Wednesday as crews were still assessing damage. It was clear that the death toll is going to rise. Bay Saint Louis firefighters worked alongside the Florida team and served as guides.
Tuesday night as firefighters were briefed on their assignments, Gainesville Firefighter Wendy Hedman expressed concern.
"Our main concern is going to be structural stability,'' she said. "We're going to be going into buildings to look for survivors and people who need our help . . . A lot of the problems are going to be flooding. Hopefully we can help somebody."
"There are definitely more bodies," DeVita said.
Residents looked exhausted. Many of them lined up at Winn-Dixie and Family Dollar to loot water, barbecue grills, clothing and fans.
At one point, Bay Saint Louis Assistant Police Chief Dave Stiprow pointed his gun at the crowd. At first, the looters ignored his threats. Then, some of them started driving off, but he made some of them go back into the store and put items back on the shelves.
The team is staying at John Stennis Space Center, just outside of Louisiana. At 7 a.m. today, they will either get assigned to work in Bay Saint Louis again or sent to another location.

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