Conservation Department Officers Assist Hurricane Relief Efforts

Eighty-five volunteers from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are on the coasts of Alabama and Mississippi supporting Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Personnel are from three divisions in the Department: Marine Police, Marine Resources and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. All are law enforcement officers trained in search and rescue and first aid.

Immediately after the storm passed through on August 29, Department personnel were using boats to rescue people in the Mobile area. Thirty officers from the Department of Conservation are currently assisting with relief efforts on the west end of Dauphin Island and in Bayou La Batre, the worst hit areas along Alabama’s coast.

Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley says the Department is more than happy to assist wherever needed. “Our personnel are trained professionals, always ready to respond to disasters such as this. I’m extremely proud of how rapidly they responded to this situation,” he said.

During Labor Day weekend, the state of Mississippi requested the Department send assistance to Gulfport. Fifty-five officers were deployed in two-man crews, many towing boats, to stay for at least seven days. The officers are sleeping on cots in tents near the destroyed Lyman Fish Hatchery, which is being used as a staging area. From there, they are being dispatched to work in several capacities: search and rescue, land and water security patrols, traffic control, loading and unloading of supplies, food and water distribution to victims, and assisting military and National Guard troops wherever needed.

Another role the officers are filling in Mississippi is assisting the Red Cross to locate family members of service men and women in Iraq. Many have not heard from relatives in the affected area and are seeking information about their wellbeing.

Wednesday the officers and the U.S. Marine Corps transported food and bottled water to approximately 40 people who were stranded on shrimp boats in the Industrial Canal near Biloxi. The Vietnamese families, who live on the boats, had moved into a protected area to wait out the hurricane. The hurricane collapsed a bridge and trapped them, and they have been without provisions for several days. One pregnant woman in the group was evacuated by the officers.

According to Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Assistant Chief Craig Hill, officers of the Department are trained in various areas that assist them in handling disaster situations. “To aid in search and rescue, we train our officers in the use of maps and compasses, Global Positioning System units, first aid and boat operations. In addition, we have the equipment needed to get into some of the affected areas such as four-wheel drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles and boats,” he said. “Our officers are able to go where roads are blocked or don’t even exist.”

The crews are expected to be in Mississippi for seven days, after which time if assistance is still needed, the Department will send relief crews to replace them.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

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