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Published: Friday, 9/2/2005

Local relief workers tackle tough missions

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
The second Life Flight group dispatched to New Orleans, from left, pilots Lee Brothers and Richard Miyar, paramedic Steve Kennedy, and nurse Branden Gleckler, prepare to board the copter. The second Life Flight group dispatched to New Orleans, from left, pilots Lee Brothers and Richard Miyar, paramedic Steve Kennedy, and nurse Branden Gleckler, prepare to board the copter.
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Karen Durniat-Suehrstedt, a Toledo Red Cross volunteer, has heard a lot of stories since arriving in Louisiana.

They usually start and end the same way.

"The people we're caring for have come out of New Orleans, and I've yet to talk to anyone who left a house behind that didn't have water up to its roof," she said. "Most swam out of their house to get to dry land or a boat. They come here with pretty much the shirt on their back, and if they're lucky, they have their wallet."

Ms. Durniat-Suehrstedt, a nurse and mental health professional at the Lucas County Mental Health Board, is at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, La., where she and fellow volunteer Dean Sparks, director of Lucas County Children Services, are helping care for 6,000-plus refugees from New Orleans.

Although cell phone coverage has been spotty, she was able to reach The Blade by phone yesterday.

"I've never seen anything like this. Not even in the movies," she said.

She's spent much of her time taking blood pressures, assisting refugees with medicine, and just being a shoulder to cry on.

Seven local Red Cross volunteers have headed south to help hurricane victims, with more planning to go.

Yesterday, the Toledo-based medical helicopter service Life Flight sent another helicopter to New Orleans to help evacuate patients from hospitals there. Life Flight sent its first one on Wednesday. Once reaching New Orleans, that crew reported that the situation was so dire that more help was needed, said BJ Pasztor, director of Life Flight, which is run by St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima, and Medical University of Ohio.

"There are patients everywhere on rooftops," Ms. Pasztor said.

The plan for the Life Flight crews was to split into teams and fly 24 hours, but that has been impossible because of dangerous flying conditions, she said.

"It's definitely a two-pilot operation and they can only fly in daylight [because of lack of power for lighting]. They are having issues with gunfire, too," she said, adding that Life Flight hasn't been fired upon, but there are reports of gunfire in the area.

About 1,500 soldiers and airmen of the Ohio National Guard, including the Lima-based 148th mechanized infantry unit, prepared to head out to help disaster relief. About 300 were scheduled to fly out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base last night on a C-130 transport plane heading to New Orleans, Ohio National Guard Major Neal O'Brien said.

Almost 500 soldiers in Michigan's National Guard have been deployed to the region. Gov. Jennifer Granholm also is activating the State's Emergency Operations Center to help coordinate relief efforts.

In Putnam County, Sheriff James Beutler had directed staff to adjust schedules and ready all-terrain vehicles and other equipment. He said he expects about a half-dozen of his staff and deputies to deploy early next week to help the relief efforts.

Local agencies say the best way for Toledoans to offer relief is with monetary donations to the Red Cross or the United Way of Greater Toledo.



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