After parts of Florida were devastated by Hurricane Ian, urban search and rescue operators from Texas A&M provided assistance for Floridians affected.
Two days before Hurricane Ian hit the Floridian coastline, 46 members of Texas A&M Task Force 1 arrived in Fort Myers. The Texan first responders were dispatched by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support local emergency crews in the aftermath of the storm.
The task force brought boats for initial water rescues and K9s for post-storm search and rescue missions.
“We’ve started out supporting the initial hasty searches and primary searches, and now we’re doing more thorough searches, going house by house and gaining entry where we can,” explained Andrew White of Trophy Club.
A five-year veteran of the A&M Task Force and an emergency communications professional, White said he had rarely seen storm damage on this scale.
“Usually, by this point, we have a pretty good handle on things, and we’re starting to think about going home,” he said. “At this point, I think we’re glad to be here. But we’re definitely looking forward to the opportunity to finish this up, mostly because that means the community can get on to the recovery effort.”
Additionally, Texas Governor Greg Abbot deployed a veterinary emergency team (VET) consisting of 80 urban search and rescue dogs, 13 Texas A&M VET team members, and seven Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agents.
Fort Myers, Florida, remains one of the hardest-hit communities, with door-to-door rescue operations still being conducted over one week after the storm initially struck.
Since the storm, Florida has reported that 1,600 rescues have been made, though not all who were hit by the storm survived. This week, the number of fatalities surpassed 100 — with most lives lost in Fort Myers — and is expected to rise.
Search and rescue efforts will continue for several more days. Afterward, the Lee County sheriff explained that cleanup efforts would become the primary focus, allowing residents to return home to their properties to assess the damage and begin implementing rebuilding strategies.
Hurricane Ian made landfall on September 28 as a powerful Category 4 storm. It brought with it a 12-foot-plus storm surge, or rise in ocean waters, an average rainfall of 20 inches, and winds reaching 150 mph. This left 2.7 million Floridians at peak outage during the storm — or about 25% of the state.
The National Hurricane Center suggested that Hurricane Ian is tied with Hurricane Charley (2004) for being the fifth strongest hurricane to hit Florida.
Hurricane Ian is estimated to have caused more than $60 billion in private insured losses in Florida, making it the second-largest disaster loss event on record, behind Hurricane Katrina (2005).