Rescuing men, women, children and pets — entire families — was all in a day’s work for 120 members of the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing.
They returned to their Westhampton Beach base Saturday after a week spent helping Hurricane Harvey victims. The vital mission ended with the rescue of 546 people trapped in the floodwaters, officials said.
“It was great to be down there helping,” said Air Force Maj. Jeff Cannet, a pilot. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people down in Texas. The devastation was pretty extensive ... I think their road to recovery is just starting.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo deployed the 106th Rescue Wing to assist the National Guard in Harvey-ravaged Houston. Search-and-rescue operations began Aug. 28, with three helicopters and an equal number of boats.
The first of several cargo planes returned to the Long Island base Saturday afternoon to a smattering of happy family members waving welcome back signs.
Cannet, speaking to reporters, recalled being stunned by flooding so severe that only the rooftops of homes were visible. The team also assisted more than 300 people with chemical burns from water tainted with gas and oil, he said.
Capt. Patrick Harding, also an Air Force pilot, said one of the more memorable rescues happened on the first day when his crew saved a desperate family of nine. Like many other victims, they were perched atop a roof.
“Right away, you could just see people on rooftops,” he said.
Cannet said all of the people they helped were grateful and relieved.
Some of the children, quickly overcoming their initial shock, enjoyed the helicopter ride, he said.
“We got them out of there, but there is a lot of work to be done,” Cannet said of Harvey victims. “Hopefully, they will continue to get the help they’ve been getting so far.”
Base Vice Commander Nick Broccoli said the 106th Rescue Wing will be ready if called again.
“We’re here to help save lives,” he said.