Marco Patriots see tipped train, chemical fire as they search for Hurricane Laura survivors

An emergency response non-profit based on Marco Island saw downed trees, a tipped train, a chemical fire and structural damage as they searched for Hurricane Laura survivors in Louisiana on Thursday morning.

Marco Patriots started heading from Baton Rouge to Lake Charles while it was still dark outside after Laura's eye passed through the area, said Erin Mia Milchman, board president of the organization.

"They went out as soon as they could," she said.

Milchman is running an operations center from Marco Island where she dispatches the Patriots to locations where they are needed.

On their way to one of those locations, a strong squall forced them to seek refuge beneath an overpass on Interstate 10. 

More:Florida's Marco Patriots deploy to Louisiana to save lives in aftermath of Hurricane Laura

"There was a big 18-wheeler that came in right next to them and the 18-wheeler was shaking and shaking and shaking so my team readjusted themselves so that the truck would not flip over them," she said.

With a chainsaw, the team cut a downed tree that fell on top of an occupied vehicle on one of the highway's service roads, she said. The people inside the vehicle were uninjured.

As the Patriots got closer to Cameron, near where Hurricane Laura made landfall, they saw a tipped train, a team video shows. Another video shows two horses on a field surrounded by metal debris.

More:Chemical fire reported at plant near Lake Charles, part of I-10 closed

A third video shows what appears to be smoke from a chemical fire. The Louisiana State Police Emergency Services Unit confirmed the fire was caused by a chlorine leak at the BioLab plant in Westlake, producer Daniella Medina with USA TODAY NETWORK reported Thursday.

Officers from the Cameron Parish Sheriff's Office stopped the Patriots and others from driving further towards Cameron, Milchman said. After waiting several hours for CPSO to allow them into the coastal town, they began driving back to Baton Rouge. 

Multiple calls to CPSO were unsuccessful as the phone lines appeared to be busy or down.

Marco Patriots use a chainsaw to cut a downed tree on top of an occupied vehicle on I-10's service road in Louisiana on the morning of Aug. 27, 2020.

"The good news is that there were no rescues needed," Milchman said. "It was wellness checks and people that were very scared."

On Friday, Milchman said the Patriots were heading back home.

Seven members of the Marco Patriots arrived in Baton Rouge on Monday hauling two WaveRunners, one airboat and rescue equipment, Milchman said Tuesday.

"They rescue people from drowning in floodwaters, deliver oxygen to people whose homes collapsed and they cut through trees to make way for ambulances," she said.

The volunteers are boat captain Ron Hagerman, Patriots co-founder Matt Melican, Naples business owner Dana Coote, Owen Maynard, Cameron Donahue and retired Marines Allan Garry and Lore "Robin" Lee, Milchman said. Garry, Lee and Cameron deployed from North Carolina.

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"When they know people will be in peril, they drop everything," she said. "(They) kiss their families farewell and head straight into the thick of it."

The Patriots ran rescue operations in 2018 in the Carolinas in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence and in the Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael, Milchman said. Hagerman and Melican rescued people in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in Southeast Texas.

Hagerman, team leader of the operation, has participated in several rescue operations as far back as 2005 after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana with winds near 125 mph. It was followed by a series of levee failures, extreme flooding and the death of approximately 1,833 people across the Gulf Coast.

Milchman said the deployed Patriots are "true heroes."

"They put themselves intentionally in harms way for complete strangers," she said. "And they do it because it is the right thing to do."

Hurricane Laura made landfall early Thursday near Cameron, Louisiana as a Category 4 storm with winds up to 150 mph.

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