Drills took place in parishes

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 5, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana National Guard soldiers in T-shirts and jeans — helped out by 10 dogs provided by the SPCA — played hurricane-stranded homeowners while other troops worked to rescue them by helicopter from rooftops or by boat from second-floor windows.

Docks at Lakefront Airport took the place of rooftops and windows in the exercise — one of a half-dozen around Louisiana’s coast after three days of tabletop exercises with a wide variety of state and local agencies.

In all, about 2,200 troops participated in Saturday’s drills in Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, St. Landry, Cameron and Calcasieu parishes, said Maj. Michael Kazmierzak, a guard spokesman. About 1,700 were in New Orleans, he said.

Email newsletter signup

Also Saturday, the Mississippi National Guard was holding a hurricane exercise in Biloxi, where Friday’s tabletop drill used the erratic path taken by Hurricane Elena, which struck the state in 1985.

‘‘It was a complicated, unpredictable storm,’’ said Col. Lee Smithson, Mississippi’s Director of Military Support. ‘‘And we like to rehearse the worse-case scenario, the thing that will tax our soldiers and our leaders the most.’’

The dogs at Lakefront Airport were a new addition since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and many people refused to leave their dogs or cats behind. Some died with their pets. In 2006, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act to make sure state and local governments help pets’ during a major disaster or emergency.

Some of the ‘‘civilians’’ played the part of handicapped people — hearing-impaired, on crutches, in a wheelchair, following a seeing-eye dog.

Those acting as rescuers had to get them into boats or helicopters, to an assembly area called a ‘‘lily pad’’ and give them whatever food or medical attention they needed immediately, and then decide where they should be taken.

In Plaquemines Parish, where Hurricane Ike broke a levee, the Guard and parish emergency department worked with a helicopter that lowered the huge sandbags used for levee breaches.

A St. Bernard Parish deployment gave out hurricane preparedness information, as practice for giving out food, water and other supplies.