The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was among the many Federal agencies called upon to assist people and other agencies in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina slammed into southeastern Louisiana and coastal Mississippi and Alabama on August 29, causing historic flooding in the New Orleans area and wind and flood destruction along the three coastal States.
One of the first USGS centers to respond to the disaster was the National Wetlands Research Center (NWRC) in Lafayette, LA, about 185 km (115 mi) west of New Orleans. The center received independent requests for boats and personnel from the Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Louisiana Governor's Office of Emergency Preparedness on the morning of August 30 for use in search and rescue in the New Orleans area. The NWRC maintains a large fleet of field vehicles, including various types of boats. When they received the requests for assistance, administrators and scientists at NWRC acted quickly, providing the necessary equipment and volunteer personnel in less than 24 hours.
Center director Greg Smith said, "Our first efforts at this time are to assist in any way in the saving of human lives during this unprecedented disaster."
Joining the center in search-and-rescue efforts were volunteers from the USGS Louisiana Water Science Center in Baton Rouge and from additional organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, and Ducks Unlimited. More than 250 persons were rescued with the assistance of USGS volunteers, and a total of about 400 people in all were rescued through the other partner efforts. Descriptions and photographs of these activities are posted online at URL http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/hurricane/katrina-help.htm.
In addition to assisting with search and rescue, NWRC employees collected thousands of dollars, food, water, toys, and clothing for hurricane evacuees being sheltered in the Cajundome sports arena, six blocks from the center. Staff members are housing more than 60 friends and family members as well as scientists evacuated from hurricane-ravaged areas.
The center combined its humanitarian and scientific efforts by providing, at the request of the Louisiana Governor's Office of Emergency Preparedness, technology and mapping for hurricane recovery.
To help find residents needing rescue in the New Orleans area, scientists supplied rescuers with longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates to supplement street addresses provided during 911 calls from or for stranded hurricane victims (a process known as geocoding). The USGS accomplished these tasks by working closely with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Louisiana Geological Survey, and the Louisiana State Police. More than 20 agencies have used the coordinates.
Additionally, USGS scientists are helping various agencies by providing data and maps on a 24/7 basis. For example, they have provided the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with up-to-date maps of the New Orleans levee system and geocoded addresses for water pumps in the city. The USGS is also assisting the Federal Emergency Management Agency by supplying maps and spatial data to various task forces involved in recovery operations. More information about the center's geospatial support is posted at URL http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/hurricane/katrina-gis.htm.
To help assess Katrina's impact on ecosystems, scientific researchers from the center conducted pre- and post-hurricane reconnaissance flights over barrier islands along Louisiana's coastline. The first post-hurricane flight on August 30 examined the Louisiana coast eastward from Raccoon Island to Port Fourchon, an important oil port, to Grand Isle, a recreational area for sport fisheries, and then to Venice, the Chandeleur Islands, and back westward to Fort Pike, Slidell, and Mandeville.
The flight revealed that an estimated 50 percent of the Chandeleur Islands has been destroyed. The islands' lighthouse is no longer visible. This chain of barrier islands is historically New Orleans' first line of defense against tropical storms and hurricanes and is also an important habitat for wildlife.
Since the August 30 flight, NWRC biologists have flown two additional reconnaissance flights along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts to assess damages to biological resources and properties on Federal and State lands. Visit URL http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/hurricane/post-hurricane-katrina-photos.htm for photographs and additional information. (Also, see article "Before-and-After Aerial Photographs Show Coastal Impacts of Hurricane Katrina," this issue.)
Carroll Cordes, acting chief of the center's Forest Ecology Branch and Wetlands Ecology Branch, said, "As more boats and personnel become available for scientific research, the center will begin an assessment of the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the plant and animal communities."
The NWRC has been devoted to research on wetlands and coastal-land loss for 30 years. Coastal wetlands are critical in helping to absorb storm waters and buffering inland areas from winds.
For more information and updates on NWRC's response to Hurricane Katrina, visit URL http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/hurricane/katrina.htm.
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