San Antonio fire chief compares Hurricane Harvey to Hurricane Katrina

Chief Hood worked response during Katrina, finds similarities, differences

SAN ANTONIO – Harvey was a storm so epic that many are drawing comparisons to Hurricane Katrina. San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood worked days of search and rescue during Katrina and said there are several similarities and differences between the two storms. 

Katrina was the most devastating event Hood had ever witnessed until now.

"This is the 82nd Airborne Helicopter," Hood said, clicking through pictures on his computer. "That's what I was working out of for several days. We had fires downtown, more flooding, so I'm taking pictures." 

He shared those personal pictures of rescue missions that are burned in his memory.

"Those people didn't get out," he said, pointing to a home with a ramp leading up to the front door.

The loss of life in New Orleans was much worse than what's expected in the Houston area.

"I think the water that fell in Houston was different than New Orleans because you're dealing with a storm surge when the levees broke in New Orleans to where the flooding came very rapidly. With Houston, the challenge is you have a very wide footprint, and we have rain almost every day for several days," Hood said.

In both storms, people were stranded and rescued from their roofs, but Hood hopes people in Houston's flooding listened to warnings about escaping to attics.

"We had to go back to pop those attics. We continued to find survivors 12 days into the event. If it's going to save your life, you can go into the attic, but you have to have a tool up there, like an ax, to where you can free yourself from that attic," he said, explaining that the best way to be rescued is to create a hole and get onto the roof.

He said something that is flourishing in the wake of Harvey is the way people are being sheltered. Hood said the shelters after Katrina were a disaster and added that emergency managers have learned from the experience. 

The biggest difference he has seen by far is preparation and cooperation, such as the use of the military in disasters like these. 

"I have some of my rescue swimmers flying on military helicopters today and they made numerous rescues yesterday. So we have a comfort level because of Katrina that has allowed us to build a really good response system," he said.

Katrina forced everyone to learn the hard way.

"We've been planning and training and exercising for the last 12 years and we've had some big storms come through but nothing to the magnitude that I would consider biblical, which is what this is, and so the preparation saved lives," he said.

In the end, that's all that really matters.

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