Nebraska task force members help with hurricane relief

September 18, 2018

Nebraska task force members kept working Monday to evacuate people to safer ground in Hope Mills, North Carolina, a town just outside of Fayetteville, as torrential rainfall from Hurricane Florence continues to make its way, like a bubble, to the coast.

In a telephone conference call Monday morning, Lincoln Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Brad Thavenet said Nebraska Task Force 1 is embedded in the town of 15,000, where floodwater is expected to crest over the next day or two.

On Saturday, the Urban Search and Rescue team deployed to help with the hurricane response evacuated 124 residents from an assisted-living facility to a safer location at a nearby church as heavy rains continued to fall.

The Nebraska group has been in the area since Thursday.

Thavenet, who is based in Kinston, 100 miles away, said task force members are there to meet the needs not only of North Carolina, but also South Carolina and Virginia, which all have gotten inundated with rain as a result of the storm.

It’s like a large chess board of moving 33 federal task forces around those three states, he said.

Thavenet told reporters people are comparing what they’re seeing to Houston, after Hurricane Harvey, but in a rural area.

“It would definitely be nice if we were able to just pull a plug and make all the water just drain away. That would be considerable help,” he said.

But, it was raining there again today, Thavenet said.

“So we’re still waiting for the sun to shine,” he said when asked if there was a timeline yet for how long the task force will remain active.

Thavenet said it remains a dynamic situation. He said rivers in the area that normally may crest at the height of a one-story building are now at the height of a four- or five-story building, meaning more water is spreading out into low-lying areas.

As the water makes its way to the ocean, it’s covering roads that previously were passable, cutting off access to communities and, in some cases, stranding drivers, he said.

Thavenet said the Nebraska task force is helping local first responders who are getting overrun with calls for service.

The task force starts at 7 a.m. and leapfrogs from one call to the next, helping people trapped in flooding homes or vehicles, he said. At night, they’re on call for life-safety and imminent rescue, often working without the benefit of street lights, making the moving water even more dangerous, Thavenet said.

City Communications Director Diane Gonzolas told Thavenet that Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler is proud of how they are representing Lincoln and Nebraska and thanked them and their families.

“From the pictures it looks like you guys are in some pretty dangerous situations,” she said. “We know that’s what you train for constantly. So we’re looking forward to your safe return.”

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