Hurricane Ian: ‘Quite a while longer;’ OH-TF1 anticipates lengthy deployment as rescues continue

SARASOTA, FL — Ohio Task Force 1 anticipates a lengthy deployment in parts of Florida following catastrophic damage in parts of the state from Hurricane Ian earlier this week.

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News Center 7 spoke with an OH-TF1 spokesperson on the ground in the Sarasota, Florida area Friday as the team continues rescue operations in some of the harder hit areas from the storm.

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“So far we’re seeing a pretty impressive amount of damage from the storm. Large trees uprooted, houses completely destroyed. You can see evidence where flood waters had risen, then receded,” Cole Niswonger, Technical Information Specialist for OH-TF1 told News Center 7′s John Bedell Friday.

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The OH-TF1 team continues to focus on rescues for people caught in flooded areas, Niswonger said.

“We are doing some hasty type searches just to identify areas that are most damaged. If any calls for personal rescues come across, or we discover anybody, that’s an absolute. We’re going to stop and take care of that as best we can.”

Due to the damage the team has seen so far, Niswonger estimates the team will be needed for an extended period of time.

“I anticipate being down here for quite a while longer,” he said.

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On Thursday, additional OH-TF1 resources were deployed from the team’s Vandalia headquarters to assist the team already on the ground in Florida. Niswonger said the additional personnel are expected to meet up with the team in the Satasota-area Friday, and merge to form a “Type 1″ search and rescue team.

“Type 1″ urban search and rescue teams are comprised of at least 60 members, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency guide.

This OH-TF1 deployment is the first hurricane deployment for Niswonger, who described the damage as tornado-like, but on a different level.

“A lot (of the damage) seems pretty similar to a tornado. Although I will definitely say the scale is much, much bigger. In addition, you have flood waters. Water seems like it can be the real danger in these kind of situations, in addition to the wind,” he said.

“As those flood level rise, there’s really no place for people to go. That’s when our boat teams are able to get out there.”

And the people who are in need of rescue are not only looking for safety, but also are in need of medical attention.

“It seems like almost every flooded area has folks in it that need to be rescued, assistance removing to a shelter at the very least. Some of those folks also are starting to encounter medical emergencies. If you have folks that are on oxygen, maybe they only had enough tanks for a couple days, they don’t have power anymore, they don’t have a way to refill their oxygen tanks.”

“We’re making sure those people can get to medical help. And getting families out so that they can get to a safer area,” Niswonger said.

Hurricane Ian made landfall earlier this week in Cuba before making a second landfall in Florida. A third landfall is expected on the Atlantic coast of South Carolina Friday.

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