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Gulfport swiftwater rescue firefighters heading to help save lives in flooded Baton Rouge

Gulfport firefighters prepare to leave for Baton Rouge to help rescue residents after days of torrential rain caused record-setting flooding in parts of Louisiana.
Gulfport firefighters prepare to leave for Baton Rouge to help rescue residents after days of torrential rain caused record-setting flooding in parts of Louisiana. Gulfport Fire Department

Four Gulfport firefighters certified as swiftwater rescue technicians are headed to Baton Rouge to help Louisiana officials rescue residents inundated by record-setting floods.

Fire Chief Mike Beyerstedt said four technicians, two boats and a pickup truck with lifesaving equipment left the Coast about 30 minutes after the chief received a phone call from the Baton Rouge Emergency Operations Center. Beyerstedt said Gulfport’s swiftwater rescue boats are straight from the Department of Homeland Security.

“We got boats on the road in rather quick time,” he said.

He said the technicians will bring rope, life jackets and harnesses with them.

About 1 p.m. Saturday, the technicians told Beyerstedt they were getting close to Louisiana’s capital city, and much of the interstate near Baton Rouge was closed to all drivers except emergency personnel.

“Louisiana state police has Interstate 12 shut down and only letting emergency vehicles through past Exit 57,” Beyerstedt said. “They’ll be sailing down the road.”

The technicians sent Beyerstedt a photo of Interstate 12 near Madisonville, and it showed water completely covering the roadway.

The technicians, who have gone through hundreds of hours of rigorous training, will help Louisiana rescue officials bring people to high ground after days of torrential rain resulted in record flooding in some areas, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

The Associated Press reports more than 1,000 Louisianans have had to be evacuated so far. Two deaths have been reported.

Beyerstedt said Gulfport is a hub for training swiftwater rescue technicians. To take the course, firefighters must be a level 2 certified rope technician, he said. The swiftwater rescue certification consists of 40 hours of work in the Pearl River in an area built for Navy SEALs to conduct their training.

“It’s very rigorous, realistic training that they go through,” Beyerstedt said.

The swiftwater rescue technicians will stay in Louisiana and help for days if they are needed, Beyerstedt said.

According to a U.S. Coast Guard press release, two MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrews from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans and one MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter aircrew from Aviation Training Center Mobile are assisting the Baton Rouge Police Department, Baton Rouge Fire Department, Louisiana State Police, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, and the Louisiana National Guard. The press release said Coast Guard had rescued more than 50 people as of Saturday evening.

Justin Mitchell: 228-604-0705, @Journalism_J

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