Rescue teams from Md., Va., head to Louisiana to help with Hurricane Laura

The elite search and rescue teams based in Fairfax and Montgomery counties are on their way to Louisiana prepared to be sent into action to help with the rescuing people from Hurricane Laura as soon as conditions on the ground allow it.

Maryland Task Force 1 and Virginia Task Force 1, special federally trained response teams, both began preparing for deployment on Tuesday and departed early Thursday morning.

They’re among about a dozen search and rescue teams from around the country headed to the area.

Each team has a caravan of about 45 people that rides with a tractor-trailer full of supplies along with vans and pickup trucks towing boats that will help reach neighborhoods inundated by water.

“Six foot of storm surge that goes multiple miles in, that covers up a good portion of the first floor of houses, that 20 foot is going to make one-story houses completely obscured and under water,” said Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein.

“That’s a big deal. As we had with Katrina, people … trapped in their attics or trapped on their roofs. That’s a big concern and a real situation that these folks train for,” Goldstein said.

Crews in Maryland and Virginia are bracing to operate in places impacted by unprecedented storm surge even several miles inland. It’s more than likely that some people who thought they were going to ride things out inside their homes will come to regret their decisions and plead for help.

“Those that did not evacuate prior to the storm making landfall, they’re going to be in trouble in those areas. They will need responders, specialized rescue responders, to help make sure there’s nobody trapped in houses, potentially houses that are surrounded by floodwaters.”

Goldstein admitted the coronavirus adds a new element of concern this year.

“We have to worry about the pandemic concerns,” he said. “Everybody will be wearing face covers, doing medical checks twice a day, and they’re being checked before they arrive.

“But we do that on a regular basis because even one member out of 40 whose got a sniffle or the beginning parts of a cold on a regular mission prior to COVID would have and could take down a large portion of that team,” he said.

It’s an estimated 20-hour trip, so while crews are told to arrive in Baton Rouge by 8 a.m. Friday, they’ll likely arrive earlier.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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