LAND O’ LAKES —Hurricane Florence was continuing Wednesday on a path toward the Carolinas, which might suffer triple hits from high winds, coastal storm surge and interior flash flooding from torrential rains. In response, the Suncoast was taking steps to return the help it received after Hurricane Irma came calling.
On Wednesday, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office was gearing up its Swift Water Recovery team for possible deployment to the Carolinas. Although it had not yet received a request to deploy, the team could be ready to be on the road within three hours, Lt. Jay Galassi, who supervises the Sheriff’s Office’s dive units.
As of 1 p.m. on Sept. 12, the Swift Water Recovery team might decide to move to a forward staging area or could remain in place until a request for assistance comes, he said during a media briefing at the aviation hangar at the county jail complex. In the meantime, it is in a state of “pre-deployment readiness.”
If the team is deployed, 14 members will make the trip, Galassi said. Its main mission would be flood recovery.
“That’s what we’re preparing for — the flooding,” Galassi said.
Although Galassi was able to show off some of the equipment the recovery team would use, the three inflatable boats and their motors have already been packed for possible deployment.
Much of the team’s equipment, Galassi noted, was purchased with money donated to the Sheriff’s Office by the public.
The Sheriff’s Office Swift Water Recovery Team is relatively new. To date, it’s best known action was the removal of an SUV that crashed and landed under the bridge over the Pithlachascotee River, on Main Street in New Port Richey.
While the Sheriff’s Office dive team was waiting to hear if it would be needed, a contingent that included Pasco Fire Rescue and Pasco Emergency Management was already deployed. The Pasco personnel are part of a 12-member all-hazards incident team from the Florida Region 4/6 Incident Management Team, according to Pasco Fire Rescue.
The team will provide support for emergency operations center operations for Hurricane Florence.
The Fire Rescue personnel assembled Wednesday morning at Fire Rescue Station 23, on State Road 54, in the Land O’ Lakes area.
With Florence expected to knock out electricity in a large area of the Carolinas, Duke Energy Florida was on the move Wednesday as well. It is sending a contingent of some 1,100 employees and contractors, according to Peveeta Persaud, the spokeswoman for the utility. They were slated to gather in Orlando and then be initially staged in Florence, South Carolina.
That 1,100-member contingent also includes personnel from Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy’s utilities in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. Another 1,000 will come from Duke Energy’s Midwest Region.
In addition, Duke Energy is working through the Southeastern Electric Exchange to secure other utility personnel to aid the post-storm recovery effort, according to Persaud.
Prior to the move to Orlando, line crews gathered at Duke Energy’s Seven Springs Operation Center, off Old County Road 54, just east of Little Road.
On Sept. 14, just hours after Florence made landfall in North Carolina, Dade City-based Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative announced a contingent of its workers and vehicles will depart early the following morning for North Carolina.
“The Carolina’s are expecting significant damage from this powerful storm. It will take a substantial amount of labor and equipment to restore power from a storm this size,” Billy Brown, WREC’S long-time General Manager, said in announcing the WREC deployment.
WREC is sending six bucket truckers, two power pole hole digger trucks and other pieces of equipment and support personnel, Brown said.
While in North Carolina, the WREC contingent will help the not-for-profit Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation restore power to homes and businesses. BEMC is headquartered in Shallotte, North Carolina, on the Atlantic coast just north of the South Carolina state line.
Elsewhere on the Suncoast, Tampa Fire Rescue said Wednesday it was deploying a K-9 dog and the dog’s handler as part of the FEMA Florida Task Force 3. The team is on its way to a staging area in Columbia, South Carolina, according to a news release.
The dog from Tampa is trained to find living people during urban search and rescue operations.
On Tuesday, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue said two of its ambulances and their crews were on the way to Raleigh, North Carolina, as part of the Region 4 Rescue Strike Team. The Hillsborough crews were expected to aid the preparation for landfall by Hurricane Florence and the post-storm recovery effort, according to Eric Seidel, the Hillsborough Fire Rescue public information officer.
Wednesday afternoon, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said his department was preparing to aid Hurricane Florence evacuees and assist in the storm response effort. They include the Florida Forest Service and the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement.