Donald A’mour (red helmet) spent 10 days in New Orleans with a Texas rescue team. (Courtesy photo)
By Tonya Garner: CNJ staff writer
As America watched in horror news footage of Hurricane Katrina devastate historical New Orleans, Clovis resident Linda D’Amour sat at the edge of her seat.
Her son Donald was there on screen, right in the middle of it, pulling people out of swirling, black water.
Donald D’Amour, 28, is a member of the Texas Task Force 1 State Search and Rescue Team division. The highly trained group was mobilized to Louisiana for “water rescue,” which meant spending 20 hours a day on a boat.
Each day, his team received specific missions, each mission an assigned area to search and rescue any survivors. However, he said, the team had to overcome several obstacles to complete each mission.
“Every day had challenges and obstacles,” said the former Clovis firefighter and EMT who now lives in Austin, Texas.
Once, en route to a mission destination, D’Amour said his group encountered people drowning.
“We had to save them first; they became a sub-mission which had to be completed before we could continue on to our assigned mission,” he said.
Another challenge faced by the rescue squad was the resistance of some survivors to vacate their homes. D’Amour’s mother recalls a newscast where she watched her son coax a woman from her residence by telling her she would die if she didn’t come with him.
“It didn’t show on the news whether or not she went,” she said.
“When I had the chance to speak to him, I asked him; he said she did get in the boat.”
D’Amour said the uniformed rescue teams frightened some of the victims because they were illegal immigrants. “We rescued a total of 4,861 people,” he said. “1,500 of them were illegal immigrants.”
They found survivors on any high ground. “We would climb onto rooftops and knock,” he said. “If we heard a knock back, or voices, then we would cut through to get them out of the attics.”
As if the rescue missions weren’t dangerous enough, looters began acquiring weapons and firing on authorities. As the search-and-rescue teams ran the risk of being shot, they were provided extra protection.
“We were surrounded by armed guards the entire time,” D’Amour said.
“At night we were escorted to a safe location, about 60 miles away.”
According to D’Amour, some buildings were flooded with 20 feet of contaminated water.
They wore special dry suits that looked like scuba diving equipment, designed to minimize skin contact with the water. At the end of each working day, each member of the water rescue team washed off with a 10-percent bleach solution.
D’Amour spent 10 days in the heart of New Orleans. He never felt overwhelmed at any time during those high-profile rescue operations.
“It just seemed unreal,” D’Amour said. “It was like a war zone. There was death and destruction on a large scale.”
“It was ten times worse than what people were seeing on the news.”
D’Amour said the experience was physically tiring but he was prepared to stay as long as necessary.
His mother said she was happy to hear he had returned home safe and sound. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience where he got to use his training.”
“I am so proud of him,” Mrs. D’Amour said.