|PPG emergency responder, Don Handy, helps to rescue a family from a balcony in New Orleans. This photo was taken from inside the rescue boat by PPG's Clyde Dennis. |
The Calcasieu Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Planning specifically requested assistance from Lake Charles' highly trained confined-space rescue team in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
The PPG volunteers, maneuvering their boats through New Orleans' flooded streets, plucked survivors of Hurricane Katrina from apartment balconies and makeshift water craft, according to Clyde Dennis, manager of emergency planning and response at Lake Charles, and one of the volunteers.
"It gives us extreme personal satisfaction that we were able to save people's lives," Dennis said. "Most of the people we saved didn't speak a word. They were dehydrated, numb and overwhelmed. We witnessed indescribable destruction and human suffering, but feel proud we were able to help people."
After the PPG employees from Lake Charles went to the assistance of those battered by Katrina, they suffered a disaster of their own as Rita ripped through their southwest Louisiana city. Many were left homeless in the wake of the Category 3 storm that made landfall about 30 miles west of the complex.
Jon Manns, plant manager for PPG's Lake Charles chemicals complex, said the facility "held up surprisingly well" in the wake of Hurricane Rita. In an initial assessment of the more than 640-acre facility, Manns said most if not all small storage sheds were destroyed, and most buildings with vinyl siding sustained some damage. In addition, standing water made several areas of the complex impassable. The plant was without power, and the phone system was down.
The company said from its Pittsburgh headquarters that it was moving quickly to insure that employees continued to receive their paychecks while repairs to the plant were being made.
The other five search-and-rescue volunteers from the Lake Charles facility were Johnny Copeland, service mechanic/machinist; Don Handy, warehouse/ delivery/receiving clerk; John Leveque, service mechanic/electrician; Jerry Merchant, workers' compensation and medical supervisor; and Mark Smith, service mechanic/welder. The squad left for New Orleans with two boats, river navigation and search-and-rescue equipment, a camper and a week's supply of food. Copeland's wife, Sheree, went along to prepare meals for the crew.
In addition to search-and-rescue, the PPG volunteers assisted with distribution of food and water, and staffing helicopter landing zones.
A second set of Lake Charles emergency response squad volunteers have also come forward to help: Scott Dennis, Brennan Freeland, Duke Hebert and Mike Miller, all operators at the facility.
All of the volunteers were asked to leave the afternoon of September 1 when state officials ordered the evacuation of New Orleans - under the threat of enacting martial law - in an effort to restore security and safety, according to Jim Rock, director of environment, health and safety at the Lake Charles complex.
Lake Charles employees are continuing to help.
Miller and his wife, Sunny, have taken leadership roles in coordinating donations at the Burton Coliseum in the City of Lake Charles where more than 1,000 evacuees are being temporarily housed. Leveque has taken a week off from work to help in the relief effort.
And dozens of other employees have volunteered to assist the more than 2,500 evacuees at the Lake Charles Civic Center and those at Burton Coliseum.
"We're very proud of these employees and their willingness to give of themselves, to step up and help in a time of such tremendous need," Rock said. "Our prayers are with all of those affected by this horrific natural disaster; with our local, state and federal leaders; and with our employee volunteers who are trying their best to help piece these people's lives back together.