Gustav aftermath

As Hurricane Gustav pounded the northern Gulf Coast Monday, 34 law enforcement personnel from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) assembled at Milton High School to move in behind the storm.

The FWC deployed 31 officers, two mechanics and a radio technician to assist local authorities in Louisiana with search-and-rescue operations during the critical two-to-three days after the brunt of the hurricane. The FWC officers had 22 small, shallow-draft boats in tow and other equipment to find and rescue stranded people.

Louisiana officials have agreed to reimburse Florida for the cost of the assistance.

"We have the equipment, the training and the experience to help our friends in Louisiana survive this storm," FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said. "That carries with it the moral obligation to do our part for them, and they can count on us to do all we can without putting our own residents at risk."

Gov. Charlie Crist, who also made resources from other state agencies available for the operation, accompanied the FWC convoy from the Santa Rosa County high school to the Alabama State Line.

FWC Maj. Curtis Brown and Maj. Brett Norton will command the agency's search-and-rescue efforts and direct officers to trouble spots identified by Louisiana officials.

FWC personnel on the scene include the agency's Special Operations Groups from the Northwest and North Central regions. Special Operations Groups are FWC officers with special training and equipment to assist in natural and man-made disasters and who have agreed to deployment at any time, regardless of their own situations at home.

Three years ago, the officers moved in to Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina with crucial law enforcement and life-saving rescue efforts. Local agencies lost all their emergency equipment, vehicles, vessels and communications and relied on the FWC for help.

Meanwhile, FWC leaders are keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Hanna as it approaches Florida. Other FWC resources are on standby, and the FWC units in Louisiana will return to Florida if needed to cope with that storm.