Utah’s elite search and rescue team has been deployed to Texas to help rescue people trapped in the unprecedented floodwaters caused by Hurricane Harvey.
On Thursday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency called in Utah Task Force 1, a group comprised largely of firefighters who have undergone extensive training in responding to disasters.
An 11-vehicle convoy carrying 46 team members headed to Texas in the early hours of Friday, according to task force program manager, Bryan Case, who is a captain with the Unified Fire Authority.
On Sunday, they were sent to Houston, where floodwaters have risen as high as 17 feet, turning roads into rivers and washing away homes. Local emergency personnel have been overwhelmed with 911 calls and have asked anyone in the area with a boat to help save trapped people.
The Utah team has four boats to assist in the rescue operation, as well as trained dogs and some equipment to remove people stuck in attics or other locations.
“We are in there supplementing and performing the more complex and detailed rescues that maybe the original municipalities can’t do,” said Case, who is monitoring the situation from Salt Lake City.
Want to help? Here’s how to donate to the Red Cross
- Go online, www.redcross.org
- Call 1-800-REDCROSS
- Text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation
- To volunteer or get free disaster preparedness and response training in Utah, go to www.redcross.org/local.utah or call 801-323-7000
The Utah team is working with another federal task force conducting water rescues, he said. As of Sunday afternoon, the Washington Post estimated, more than a 1,000 water rescues had taken place in the Houston area alone.
“They were expecting to help hundreds of people,” Case said. “They're going to be busy.”
The team is made up largely of firefighters from Unified Fire and the departments in Salt Lake City, Park City, Draper, Layton and Logan, along with a few participants who are civilians. They could be in the Texas area anywhere from a few days to two weeks, depending on the need. The flooding in Texas is expected to continue with more persistent, heavy rain forecasted for the next few days.
Utah has one of just 28 federal urban search and recuse teams. Utah Task Force 1 went to New York City after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and Hildale, Utah, in 2015 when a flash flood swept away 13 people.
Utah Division of Emergency Management spokesman Joe Dougherty said that, at this time, no entity in Texas has requested any state-controlled resources though the division is monitoring the situation.
In addition to the search and rescue team, the Utah National Guard on Sunday tweeted that two of its Black Hawk helicopters are en route to Oklahoma. From there, they will be used to support more than 3,000 national and state guard troops who are being deployed to assist with relief and recovery efforts, according to the Washington Post.
Volunteers from the Utah Red Cross are headed to the area and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sent three trucks loaded with drinking water and other critical supplies.