Local Coast Guard Crews Honored for Katrina Rescues - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports


Local Coast Guard Crews Honored for Katrina Rescues

A Coast Guard helicopter flies over a flooded New Orleans last year. A Coast Guard helicopter flies over a flooded New Orleans last year.

We'll never forget the images of Hurricane Katrina, including the daring rescues performed by the United States Coast Guard. Crews from all over the country--including Air Station Savannah--rescued more than 30,000 people.

WTOC caught up with our local crews as they received some much-deserved recognition for making a huge contribution to the mission. Fifteen members of Air Station Savannah and seven from the Coast Guard Auxiliary are being honored. They flew 130 hours over the Gulf Coast, saving 376 people from certain disaster.

Rescue swimmer Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Laub is just one member of Air Station Savannah being recognized for heroism. In his first seven hours on the job, he reached 34 survivors, lowered by helicopter onto rooftops and balconies. It was dangerous from the start.

"They put me down on the roof and I had to cut a hole in their roof with an axe," he told us.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary made sure the men and their supplies got where they needed to go. "We do this just to give back to this country," said assistant aviation coordinator Bob Coman. "And to be able to be a part of a mission like Katrina, it just felt good to be able to help."

Adm. Owen Siler (ret.) offered his praise.  "We have a number of people we rescue every year, but they did that number of people that is usually done in a year, in a matter of days."

The Coast Guard's motto is "Semper Paratus," or "Always Ready," and they are. When the call came in after Hurricane Katrina to help out, every member of Air Station Savannah was ready to go.

"I had been stationed in New Orleans for four years so I knew that this big one was going to do some damage," said Lt. Steve Foran. "So I said, 'If we go, can I put my name in the hat?'"

The next day, Lt. Foran was on his way. He and his crew worked day and night, rescuing 127 people, including 34 in just four hours. He'll never forget it. "Looking into their eyes...you turn around and look in the back of the cabin and they give you a big smile and thank you and it makes you feel good."

"It's fulfilling," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Laub. "It makes your job seem that much more worthwhile. It's something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

Tomorrow, the Coast Guard celebrates its 216th birthday. It's evolved from the Revenue Cutter Service and Lighthouse Service to a division of the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Transportation and, most recently, the largest agency in the Homeland Security Department.

But one thing that hasn't changed is the Coast Guard's commitment to saving lives, answering the call of duty, wherever that duty takes them.

Reported by: Liz Flynn, lflynn@wtoc.com

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