EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — Forty Border Patrol agents from Texas’ Rio Grande Valley Sector along with four Black Hawk helicopters, a P-3 aircraft and 14 boats have been deployed to the Texas-Louisiana border to help with Hurricane Laura rescue efforts, and the sector chief is the agency’s lead field coordinator.
Border Patrol RGV Chief Patrol Agent Brian Hastings, in one of his first public appearances since taking over the sector in March, told Border Report on Thursday that he has agents stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, Houston, and New Orleans, to help with water and air rescues after the Category 4 hurricane made landfall early Thursday morning.
Hurricane Laura made landfall with 150 mph winds around 1 a.m. near the town of Cameron in southeastern Louisiana, and within several hours was downgraded to a tropical storm. At least four deaths are being attributed to the storm — one of the most powerful to strike the Gulf Coast in over a decade.
Hastings has been named CBP Lead Field Coordinator and is overseeing incident commanders in Houston and Hammond, Louisiana, as well as coordinating teams on the ground for response and recovery efforts, his office said.
‘Hot stand-by mode’
Agents are on a “hot stand-by mode” waiting for a call from federal, state or local “partners that they need assistance,” he said. “We got a great team. This is a CBP response. It’s not just Border Patrol. We have OFO incident commanders — the Office of Field Operations commanders — on the ground providing insight as to what’s going on and we had Air & Marine Operations heavily involved in providing oversight.”
Hastings said the agents he sent often conduct water rescues on the Rio Grande and in the Gulf of Mexico, and are familiar with the terrain of the region. Many also are maritime vessel commanders “who daily patrol the river but in this case, are doing rescue missions and life-saving missions,” he said.
He said he has sent several specialized teams that are part of the elite Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR), as well as members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) The agency’s Air and Marine Operations will also be instrumental in providing air support for damage assessments and rescues.
“A lot of them are emergency medical technicians. They’re trained in swift water rescue. They’re trained in various rescue types and they are well-trained and they are suited,” Hastings said.
Thursday was the first time Hastings gave in-person media interviews since he took over command of the sector in March during the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused him to be in lockdown and not out and about in the community as he’d like, he said. He was previously stationed at the CBP headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The interview came on the day when Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan were supposed to visit South Texas to commemorate the construction of the 300th mile of border wall, but canceled the event due to the hurricane.
On Wednesday, Hastings said he met personally with the agents before they deployed in order to get into position before the hurricane struck, and in order to avoid evacuating traffic.
“I’m proud of our agents and what they do day in and day out and I was very proud to meet with them yesterday before they left they were very excited about being able to have the opportunity to go up and save lives,” he said.
Hastings says he firmly believes his crew is up to this challenge because of the challenges they face daily patrolling “the busiest sector” for illegal immigration of the nine sectors on the Southwest border. Nationwide, The Rio Grande Valley Sector accounts for 24% of all migrant apprehensions and 44% of all drug seizures, he said.
When they return will depend upon the level of destruction and need. Preliminary reports put damages in the billions and there were concerns that entire towns could be washed into the Gulf.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.