Alabama Task Force K9 Unit describes helping Hurricane Laura victims

Mobile County

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — An elite group of firefighters, trained in search and rescue is back in Mobile after helping in the Hurricane Laura aftermath.

The Alabama Task Force 1 is made up of firefighters, medical personnel, volunteers, and K9 search and rescue teams. The K9’s play an important role in that group as they helped check on those who remained in Lake Charles as Hurricane Laura hit.

“You didn’t know what you were going to come across,” said Jenifer Arballo. “We really had no idea, so you’re imagining the worst, what you’ve seen on the news from past storms.”

As the hurricane was moving towards Louisiana and Texas, the Alabama Task Force 1 was heading towards the storm.

“You have to definitely be very passionate,” said Claudia Hage-Wright.

Hage-Wright and Arballo are K9 search and rescue teams part of AL-TF1.

“We are 100% volunteer section,” said Arballo, the AL-TF1 K9 coordinator.

The morning after the storm, they went straight to work. “We go house to house, talking to each person making sure that they’re ok, that they have what they need as far as food and water,” said Arballo. She continued, “if they’re concerned about anyone, we’ll investigate further.”

The teams searched homes, making sure those who chose to stay and ride out the Category 4 storm survived.

“We had an apartment complex with numerous buildings and we were mainly concentrated on the upstairs balconies. My dog Ozzy was adamant that somebody was in the apartment building in this particular apartment. We were able to confirm there was someone in that apartment still, but they didn’t need any assistance. It was good for us to be able to account for the person there. It could have been that they would have needed further assistance,” said Hage-Wright, a K9 search specialist with AL-TF1.

“We had a couple of houses they had cars in the driveway, and the entrances and exits were blocked and neighbors weren’t sure if anyone was in there or not,” said Arballo.

The K9 crews train non-stop with their dogs for moments just like this.

Searching through the destroyed streets and homes the crews say they mostly saw people who stayed were ok, or others who returned after the storm helping with the clean up process. “At times, it’s very humbling,” said Hage-Wright.

The entire AL-TF1 crew worked for hours, making sure everyone in Lake Charles was safe. “It makes very long days. But its 100% worth it,” said Arballo.

One of the things they saw in Lake Charles they say was difficult for them to see were animals that had been left to fend for themselves in the hurricane. “Attaching them to the house somehow and think they’re going to keep them safe, these animals are so scared,” said Hage-Wright.

The K9 unit is looking for more volunteers. If you want to know more about their program and team, click here. You do not need to own a dog to join.


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