- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Search-and-rescue teams and utility workers are among the volunteers from the Washington area headed south to help people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

A 34-person squad from the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team is on its way to Gulfport, Miss. Thirty-five persons from a similar team in Montgomery County will be based at Stennis Space Center in Louisiana, 50 miles west of New Orleans.

The Fairfax squad left yesterday with medical supplies, generators and infrared cameras to detect bodies under rubble.

“Like all emergency responders, when you see people in need, you want to go and help,” said county Fire Chief Michael P. Neuhard.

One of the most crucial needs is electricity.

“It’s catastrophic. Working conditions are hazardous. It’s hot and humid,” said David Botkins, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power, which sent 200 workers to Louisiana and Mississippi. “The entire grid system in these areas is completely ruined. They’re starting from scratch.”

And four local American Red Cross rescue workers in two vans left Fairfax County yesterday for Little Rock, Ark., where they will be deployed to areas needing food, water and care.

“There’s a lot of different operations we’re going to be doing, but the main thing is feeding people,” said Ryan Kaltenbaugh, 31, who has been volunteering with the Red Cross for three years. “There’s people out there that do need food severely.”

“This is what I want to do with my life,” said Laura Lindenfeld, 24, of Silver Spring, who was on the first Red Cross van. “I don’t really have any expectations other than I’m going down there with an expecting-the-worst mentality.”

The volunteers were headed to the disaster area in two of the region’s five ambulance-sized mobile canteens used as distribution sites. The units will be loaded with food and water once they reach Little Rock. They can hold provisions to feed up to 1,000 people a day.

Two of the vehicles, with two-person crews of local volunteers, left from Annapolis and another from Alexandria on Sunday. The area now has one of the vehicles left, but will send it out as soon as it is needed.

The search-and-rescue teams are prepared to deal with damage to lightweight wood structures, including houses and strip malls — situations that typically present themselves only after floodwaters subside, said Capt. Joe Knerr, task force leader with the Fairfax County fire department.

Each team has four search dogs trained to sniff for bodies in wreckage.

“We’re prepared for anything — people trapped in buildings, water rescues and environmental hazards,” said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Montgomery County fire department. “But hopefully we’ll be able to help some live people.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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