Team spent two weeks in recovery effort; second team sent Oct. 30

PRATT -- On Oct. 16, 12 Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) natural resource officers left Chanute to assist the Harrison County (Mississippi) Coroner's Office with recovery of hurricane victims during debris removal. Team members included Mike Little, team leader, and Keith Rather, assistant team leader, as well as four two-man teams including Jeff Goeckler/Glenn Cannizzaro, Clint Lee/Sam Allred, Kevin DeFisher/Justin Koehn and Dan Melson/Mike Lewis.

Officers arrived at the Mississippi Emergency Management Operations Center in Gulfport late that evening. The following day, they received identification badges and inoculations before being sent to the field. The officers observed as general contractors removed debris in the Gulfport, Biloxi, Long Beach, and Pass Christian areas.

Teams of two were assigned to each construction crew with instructions to watch for victims as debris was loaded into trucks for transport to local landfills. If victims or victim remains were discovered, the officers were to inform the coroner's office of the location in preparation for recovery and identification. The devastated areas offered limited accessibility through checkpoints blocking access to the general public.

Designated Team 791, the KDWP group was also assigned to work with other agency officers, including firefighters and police officers. The average day included 11 to 13 hours of searching.

"Many home owners, residents and contractors were quick to share their appreciation for our efforts in this time of need," Little said. "It is hard to describe the destruction. If one would imagine the damage of a tornado 150 miles long and 1 to 2 miles wide, you might get an idea. But Team 791 was quick to respond and glad to be able to assist."

Team 791 returned to Kansas Nov. 1. A second team of six officers left Oct. 30 and is scheduled to return Nov. 16.