- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2005

Scores of volunteers, rescue workers and utility crews from the D.C. area are on their way or awaiting orders to deploy to the Gulf Coast to help in cleanup operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Federal officials, power companies and local charities are tapping resources from the District and its suburbs to help in relief efforts in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, where Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane yesterday.

Officials said they are allowing their forces to travel to the hard-hit areas in the South because the National Weather Service has said that the remnants of Katrina are likely only to generate thunderstorms in the Washington area region.

Yesterday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency asked Montgomery County’s Urban Search and Rescue team to deploy at 7 a.m. today. The highly specialized division of the Montgomery County fire department performs technical rescues of people trapped in wreckage.

Pete Piringer, a department spokesman, said the team usually consists of about 60 to 70 members. Federal officials asked for a Type 3 deployment, which means that between 30 and 40 team members will head south.

Mr. Piringer said members of the team will travel in vans, and a tractor-trailer will carry their food, tents, sophisticated audio and camera equipment and other supplies used to locate and extract survivors.

Several of Montgomery County’s team members have been predeployed to Shreveport, La. and to Meridian, Miss.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross has kicked off what it calls the largest mobilization of resources in its history for a single natural disaster. The organization is asking for hundreds of volunteers who can be ready within 24 hours and spend three weeks taking part in relief efforts.

“Once everything blows through, then there will be a movement to do mass care,” said Katie Murrin-Finch, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross’ Alexandria chapter.

Cameron Ballantyne, a spokesman for the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area, said the region’s five emergency-response vehicles are making their way to a staging area in Little Rock, Ark.

The vehicles, which are ambulance-sized mobile canteens, are used as distribution sites and respond to large-scale emergencies. They are owned by the national Red Cross, but are deployed locally.

“These units could feed up to 1,000 people per day,” Mr. Ballantyne said.

Two such vehicles, along with their two-person crews of local volunteers, left from Annapolis and another from Alexandria Sunday. Volunteers will drive two more vehicles from Fairfax this morning.

Potomac Electric Power Co. officials have sent 70 line personnel, their trucks and equipment in convoys to the Gulf area to help local utility crews there restore power.

Mary-Beth Hutchinson, a Pepco spokeswoman, said the utility company is part of a mutual-aid network among power companies. She said one difficulty of sending assistance is that in some cases, a destructive storm in another part of the country is days away from striking home.

“The prediction was such that we felt comfortable sending those personnel, but we need to maintain a reaction force here,” she said.

David Botkins, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power, said that company sent 300 workers to Florida Thursday after Katrina swept through the southern part of the state.

An additional 200 Dominion Virginia workers are expected to leave this morning for Mississippi and Louisiana.

“Obviously, the damage is so bad, so extensive, so wide-ranging, that we won’t know until tomorrow where they will be deployed,” Mr. Botkins said.

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