Virginia Task Force Two

Captain John Rigolo, leader of eighty troops from Virginia Task Force Two from Virginia Beach, VA, paused while his troops rested under the twisted awning of what once was a gas station in Waveland, to explain his force’s role. “We’re part of the national Urban Search and Rescue teams.”
He turns to his troops. “Hey, fellas, mill about smartly, they’re going to take some pictures. OK? We got down here Tuesday morning. We came here to do search and rescue, to find live victims, patients if you will, and fatalities. We’re marking fatalities for the teams coming behind us.

“This is a tough one. Our team operated at the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11. A number of our guys operated at the World Trade Center. We saw a lot of destruction at both of those, but here the destruction is widespread.
“People who may not have had a lot to start with have even less now. It’s tough.”

His team had yet to do a rescue, Rigolo said. “Unfortunately, all we’ve had so far is fatalities. We have done some animal rescues the last couple of days. Most of it has been recovery. A decent amount, yes sir.

“It’s tough. You see a lot of destruction, a lot of widespread loss. People have lost everything The stories we’re hearing about people who’ve ridden out the storm, living in their attics, one guy jumped on a boat, tied a sailboat to a tree, another lady who pushed her children up into it. She hung on to the bottom of a tree when the storm surge came through. Incredible stories of survival.

“We’re just about done with our search of this operation. What we’re doing, we’re hitting every street, every house, every structure. Going through the debris fields looking for any possibility of survivors, fatalities as well, identifying those for closure on that.

“We’re about to move our operation here to another location.

“Our group has a lot of experience. We have deployed a number of times during the last year for hurricanes. We were down in the panhandle of Florida, searching structures there. We’re well trained for this one, unfortunately.” Katrina, Rigolo said, is “the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Rigolo recalled one particular incident. “A woman found us and asked us to go to her mother’s house. We went by her house and we would see it was damaged very severely, and her mom’s car is visible in the garage, but she [the daughter] couldn’t get into the house because of the debris field. Her mom’s in there and I hope she’s alive. So we’re going to go in and look for her. That wasn’t even in our area. Our area was a couple blocks away. We go in there and start working away and a dog starts barking. The lady said, ‘Oh, that’s Buddy. That’s her dog.’ You can hear Buddy yapping in the background, it was a small Shitzu [SP?] The lady cried a heartfelt, ‘Mom, mom! Buddy, Buddy!’ started yelling out. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God’. All of sudden, in the house, we found her mom. Obviously, the turnout wasn’t good, but the positive side of it was, that we got Buddy. Buddy was actually entrapped in some debris and trees, we extracted him, turned him over to the daughter. She was very teared up. A very sad moment was a very good moment. The dog survived—she got at least a piece of her mom, something very important to her survived the storm. Turn that off now,” Rigolo instructed.

After I turned off the audio recorder, Rigolo related how his troops, a very tough bunch, were emotionally moved by the moment.

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