County sending Hazmat team to help clean up after Katrina

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:53

    SUSSEX COUNTY— Six "well-trained" county employees who are being classified as hazardous material technicians will leave for the battered city of New Orleans sometime today to help with the Big Easy's recovery efforts. The six men, all Sussex County employees, will take part in decontamination efforts by using equipment from a large trailer that could help decontaminate people, animals, and possibly even locations, according to Eskil "Skip" Danielson, Sussex County's director of emergency management. The Hazmat team is being sent "through us" at the direction of the state Emergency Management Assistance coordinator, Danielson said. "We've had nobody (receive) any orders yet, but we understand our decontamination team will be sent down (today)," Danielson said Monday. A large trailer that includes boilers, hoses, shelters and showers will be going to New Orleans with the technicians, who are expected to wear Level B contamination suits that are "fully encapsulated" and afford the "second highest level" of personal protection, added Danielson, who said the deployment will be for some 16 days, including travel time and back. New Orleans, hit by Hurricane Katrina on the morning of Aug. 29 at a time when the "monster storm" was packing winds of some 145 miles per hour or more, appeared to have escaped the worst part of the storm, which wrought serious, costly damage to Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi. But when the levees protecting the Big Easy from both the Mississipi River and Lake Pontchartrain collapsed many hours later, some 80 percent of the city became submerged in badly contaminated water that had sewage, gasoline, chemicals and corpses in it. As of Monday, a total of 383, including 154 New Orleans residents, had been confirmed dead, with that total expected to rise significantly due to the heavy flooding. By Monday, according to published reports, some 12,000 cubic feet of water per second was being pumped from the city. Nearly 300,000 homes along the Gulf Coast region were damaged or destroyed, published information said. Danielson, when asked if there were any conceivable circumstances that would force the evacuation of part or all of Sussex, replied, "I don't think so." He said the only possible exception could be in the event of a radiological leak, which would have to be "downwind"—and maybe not even then. The horrific events from the Gulf Coast did bring back some memories from the flood of Aug. 12, 2000 when some 14 to 18 inches of rain within five hours resulted in a heavy amount of water coming down Sparta Glen that devastated surrounding areas, wiping out roads and flooding homes. Danielson said that Sparta asked for Danielson's help, and that additional community coordinators were called in "by me immediately." Since the destruction of portions of the Gulf Coast, blame has been shifted from New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco to the federal government and back. But in a blistering Internet column on Sept. 6, registered nurse Barbara J. Stock pointed out that unlike the neighboring states of Mississipi and Alabama, Louisiana did not request federal help until some three days later, which left President George W. Bush "frustrated" and unable to intervene during that time. Under terms of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, the president of the United States cannot dispatch federal troops to any state without the request of that state's governor. The lone exception would be in the event of an insurrection that would require the National Guard and other federal troops to restore order. According to Stock, the heavy looting and wild lawlessness occurring in the city either caused Bush to utilize the Insurrection Act, or put him on the verge of doing so. Stock also noted that neither Blanco or Nagin utilized a portion of the Louisiana disaster plan that calls for school and municipal buses to help evacuate those without other transportation, a point that did not escape Danielson's attention. "I can tell you that in Sussex County, our plans would not permit school buses to sit by while people need to be evacuated," he said. "The federal government cannot go into the state unless they're asked. They can only go in in the case of insurrection. The other two states (Mississipi and Alabama) called right away. That was not the case in Louisiana. "As mayor of Byram, I'd look for a place to go and hide if I didn't activate those buses," Danielson added. "And the federal government, given the rioting, was looking to invoke the Insurrection Act because the state was not calling for assistance."