Task Force 1 back in Columbia

Missouri Task Force 1 members unload gear Monday afternoon. Members say Colorado's terrain was unlike anything the unit has encountered on previous deployments.

Missouri Task Force 1 returned home Monday afternoon after a week of helping with flood recovery efforts in Colorado.

Gale Blomenkamp, the unit's spokesman, said its 80 members conducted a variety of search and rescue operations in the affected area. He said it was hard to say how many people the unit rescued since it worked in conjunction with local, state and federal SAR units, but he estimated the Missourians played a role with thousands of flood survivors.

The Colorado mission was an unusual one for Task Force 1, which like several similar units nationwide trains primarily for urban search and rescue such as what happened in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Safety officer Terry Cassil, who is also a division chief for the Columbia Fire Department, said Task Force 1 has responded to floods before, but the mountainous terrain presented challenges. He noted the area's canyons meant water came rushing down from the mountains at tremendous speed. As a result, many roads in the area were damaged, cutting people off and necessitating air rescues.

"It's not just a 30-yard or a 50-yard strip that's been washed out like we see happen on the Missouri River. The road is gone for miles," he said. "And it'll take months to fix those roads."

Dan Haid was on his first deployment with Task Force 1 and was among the crews that airlifted people off the mountains.

"When we flew in on the helicopters, they were waiting for us. There were probably 60 or 70 people waiting," he said.

The Missourians rescued more than people. Cassil said teams often had to rescue pets as well.

"We had one evacuation that was over a hundred bunnies," he said. "Which is a very big challenge on how do you crate them and how do you safely take care of them."

Josh Creamer, an 8-year task force veteran who assisted with search planning during the unit's deployment, said the terrain required crews to think outside the box in order to find the best uses for their equipment. In addition, Creamer said Task Force 1's logistics were different on this mission because crews often camped out overnight.

Blomenkamp said now that Task Force 1 is home, the next order of business is to put up the tents the unit used, dry out gear and fix anything that is broken.

As of Monday afternoon, Colorado officials said eight people are dead and six are still missing due to the floods. About 2,000 homes have been destroyed.