CBP agents and officers saving lives in Hurricane ravaged areas of Texas
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and federal, state and local partners continue life-saving missions, rescuing thousands of residents affected by Hurricane Harvey. As of today, CBP personnel have rescued 490 people along with 14 dogs, two cats and even a lizard.
“CBP is all in on response and recovery efforts,” said Acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello. “We are doing everything in our power to save people that are in harm’s way. I’m very proud of the deployment down there… and we’re going to stay with the folks in the region until that recovery starts. And so I want to praise them for the work that they’ve done so far,” he said.
Many individuals were pulled from roof tops in the worst hit areas by CBP Air and Marine Operations helicopters operating in low visibility, in airspace crowded with other rescue aircraft. Many were rescued by the Border Patrol agents on low-draft riverine vessels.
One women - who was enveloped by rising flood waters - clung desperately to a utility pole until a Border Patrol agent pulled her into his raft, and a team pulled them both to safety.
In addition to swift water rescues, agents are also “flagged down by people who need water, batteries or food,” said Border Patrol Assistant Chief Greg Lairmore, who is serving at CBP’s Emergency Operations Center in the Ronald Reagan Building. Agents are also being approached by residents who need assistance locating missing neighbors, he added.
CBP has responded to FEMA requests to support numerous federal, state and local agencies. As of today, 352 Border Patrol agents, 195 CBP officers, 42 air and marine interdiction agents and 90 civilian CBP personnel are operating in the flooded regions.
The U.S. Border Patrol and Air and Marine Operations has deployed eight aircraft, 13 helicopters and 58 riverine vessels in the relief effort. Border Patrol agents and CBP officers are assisting other federal, state and local authorities with security and performing search-and-rescue missions.
Office of Field Operations’ Special Response Team traveled to the impacted area in four 4x4 vehicles and a trailer loaded with supplies including ladders, breaching kits, life preservers, water rescue kits, throw bags, generators and fuel, lighting systems and rescue rope.
Eight kayaks and four jet skis are among the rescue craft operated by the Border Patrol, Lairmore said.
Tuesday, AMO agents supported Houston law enforcement by flying cases of donated blood in a Bell UH-1 helicopter from a stranded truck to a downtown blood bank.
Keeping everything coordinated since it was activated Aug. 25, CBP’s Emergency Operations Center is staffed by more than a dozen personnel from CBP and its components. They contribute by processing requests, assessing conditions, publishing critical reports and keeping the field informed and connected.
Officer Raymond Knight, a program director at the center, is assessing how OFO’s radiation portal monitors are affected by the flood. The machines, which are not portable, scan cargo being off-loaded from ships but are not portable. “Our initial evaluation shows there’s only limited damage that can be easily repaired,” Knight said.
Office of Acquisition Branch Chief Janice Washington coordinates procurements and purchases with FEMA and CBP field personnel. “The biggest thing is fuel,” she said. “Fuel for trucks to continue search and rescues.” Other requests included laundry trucks, portable bathroom trucks and personal protective equipment such as bug repellent and hand sanitizer.
While search and rescue efforts are paramount, locating CBP employees working in the region hit by Harvey is a top priority. “The acting commissioner wants 100 percent accountability of our staff,” said Dario Lugo, who manages the EOC.
“Many CBP employees themselves have been affected by the storm – so we are also rendering aid and assistance to our own colleagues and their families,” said Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan in a message to the workforce.
That aid will continue for some time. “We expect to be in Texas for the long haul,” said Robert P. Perez, executive assistant commissioner of Operations Support. “This agency is adept at not only responding, but planning, reacting and being resilient in recovery. We have unique capabilities as an agency and we have the talent.”