Menlo Park rescue team returns from Gulf Coast

Members of a Bay Area search and rescue team deployed to the Gulf Coast more than two weeks ago to assist in the response to hurricanes that hit the region are returning home this afternoon.

The California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 3, which is sponsored by the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, sent 35 members to Atlanta early this month in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav, which hit Louisiana on Sept. 1, fire district Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.

Twelve members of the team, which consists of personnel from several Bay Area fire agencies, were expected to return at noon today, along with six vehicles and 30,000 pounds of equipment.

Twenty-three members of the task force returned to the Bay Area last week, Schapelhouman said.

He said the task force traveled as far east as Atlanta, headed down to Alabama and were also sent to Longview, Texas on standby.

“It's a road trip,'' Scahpelhouman said. “It's not the way you want to see America, but it's certainly a way you get to see it.''

Schapelhouman said the team remained on standby during hurricanes Gustav and Ike, but was not engaged.

“It's tough to be a standby,'' he said. “It's a wait-and-see game.''

The task force was one of five from California deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance during the series of storms.

California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 4, sponsored by the Oakland Fire Department and made up of several Bay Area agencies, also responded, said Oakland fire spokesman Lt. David Brue.

Brue said the 34-person search and rescue team arrived in Houston on Aug. 31 in anticipation of Hurricane Gustav and were kept in the region for tropical storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike.

They remained on standby for Gustav and Hanna, and conducted residential searches in the northern Galveston, Texas area Saturday through Monday after Hurricane Ike struck, Brue said.

He said the team is demobilizing today and members are expected to return to the Bay Area Thursday. They are scheduled to arrive at Oakland International Airport at 11:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross Bay Area chapter is continuing to send volunteers to areas impacted by hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Red Cross spokeswoman Melanie Sanders said more than 100 volunteers have been sent to the region.

“We have folks continuing to leave every day,'' she said.

She said volunteers in Louisiana are working to help residents who lost their homes with long-term recovery, while volunteers are continuing to work in shelters in the early stages of recovery from Hurricane Ike.

In addition, an overflow call center has been set up in Oakland to help people who were affected by the storms.

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