202

Local search and rescue units head south as Matthew barrels toward Florida

WASHINGTON — As Hurricane Matthew continues barreling on its course toward the Florida coast, several local law enforcement groups are packing up convoys and preparing to head south.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has activated several urban search and rescue task forces across the U.S. to provide backup support to local authorities in Florida — and units from Virginia and Maryland are now preparing to deploy.

On Thursday afternoon, about 80 to 90 members of Fairfax County’s Virginia Task Force 1 were prepping for the trip, loading up trucks with food, water and special equipment designed to help rescue people stranded in swift-moving waters.

“The key factor here is for the first 72 hours, we have got to be self-contained for any type of food, water, medical equipment, rescue equipment,” Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department Chief Richard Bowers told WTOP. “That’s why we take everything with us. We cannot be a burden on the local disaster area. We have to be self-contained.”

FEMA activated the unit shortly before 1 p.m. Thursday, Bowers said.

“Usually, within a window of three to four hours, we like to be what we call ‘wheel’s up,'” Bowers said.

The deployment can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks.

Two units from the Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service are also deploying to Florida to assist with local authorities and FEMA.

Hurricane Matthew, which has strengthened to a Category 4 storm, is expected to slam into Florida’s coast beginning Thursday evening. The storm which killed more than 100 people when it made landfall in Haiti, could cause “catastrophic” damage, according to the National Weather Service.

Bowers said the Fairfax team is prepared to provide search and rescue missions during the storm and in its aftermath.

Earlier Thursday, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Florida, which authorized FEMA to activate the local units.

WTOP’s Max Smith contributed to this report.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

© 2016 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.