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Coast Guard Coordinator: Harvey's Impact 'Eerily Similar' To Katrina's On New Orleans

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The search and rescue efforts continue around Houston. Thousands of people are in shelters. And Tropical Storm Harvey still has many people trapped inside their homes. Streets and highways have turned into rivers. The U.S. Coast Guard is heading efforts to rescue these people. Lieutenant Hunter Hill is one of the coordinators of the flood response team, and he joins me now.

Lieutenant Hill, thanks for being here.

HUNTER HILL: Good morning.

MARTIN: Can you give me a sense of how many people the Coast Guard has been able to rescue?

HILL: We arrived yesterday. So far, we've conducted over 2,000 rescues, including pets. You know, the No. 1 priority for us is safety of life.

MARTIN: Yeah. Is there any way to know, at this point, how many more rescues are pending, how many people are still waiting?

HILL: Well, we're - as the calls come in, we get pushed out into different critical zones. So as the calls go in, they'll pick an area, and they'll send us to that area based off the call volume that's coming in.

MARTIN: And the rescues are happening a variety of ways. I mean, we've seen these powerful images of helicopter rescues - people being plucked from their flooded homes up into the air. What are the other tactics to get into these flooded areas?

HILL: We're working with the state and local agencies. So the tactics right now is more or less - it's us going out in these small flood pont (ph) boats and trying to coordinate the rescue effort. So guys wading in the water - anything that we can do to get extra bodies out there to get to the people - to the different staging areas and higher ground.

MARTIN: Safe zones. The - obviously, the Houston metropolitan area is huge. Houston is the fourth-biggest city in the country. Where are you stretched thin?

HILL: We're tossed in a bunch of different areas. So we're basing the locations that we go to off of the calls that are coming in, knowing that we can't get to everyone at the same time. We keep urging them, you know, to get to higher ground and wait it out. And, you know, we'll be here for the duration until the - you know, the water begins to reside.

MARTIN: As I understand it, there're a lot of different online tools that people are actually using or have access to during this storm. Has that changed the nature of your work and how you go about these rescues, how you identify the people who're in trouble?

HILL: It has. It definitely gives the sense of urgency. There's been 3,000-plus calls that have been coming in. So either through the phone calls or social media, it definitely gives us a game plan going forward on what areas are more majorly affected.

MARTIN: You said you're from New Orleans.

HILL: Yes.

MARTIN: Did you live through Katrina?

HILL: No, no. I was in the Coast Guard at the time and responded to that, as well.

MARTIN: You responded to Katrina, though.

HILL: Yes.

MARTIN: How does this storm compare to Katrina or other disasters you've been a part of?

HILL: It's eerily similar.

MARTIN: How so.

HILL: I guess the impact right now - similar to that, as it was to Katrina with New Orleans.

MARTIN: Are there any lessons that were learned during Katrina that you are applying to this storm or your colleagues in the Coast Guard?

HILL: Yeah, definitely. I feel, as a whole, the entire organization is much better prepared to respond. I think Katrina was kind of the standard. And we had a lessons - a lot of lessons learned that came out of that to help. You know, and now we're better organized, and we have, you know, 350-plus Coast Guard personnel responding just to this incident, with potential more additional forces coming in to assist the organic Coast Guard here, locally, in the area.

MARTIN: For people who might be hearing this who are in Houston or the surrounding communities who are still stuck in their homes, what message do you have for them?

HILL: I guess the message from them is to - you know, to stay calm, and from there, to get to higher ground. So based off what the floodwaters are doing, you know, we've been urging the public to get to higher ground, to - you know, and wait it out - or until we're able to get to them.

MARTIN: Lieutenant Hunter Hill - he's one of the coordinators of the emergency response team with the U.S. Coast Guard. His unit was deployed to Texas from New Orleans in Louisiana. Lieutenant Hill, thanks so much.

HILL: All right, thank you very much for your time.

MARTIN: Take good care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.