SALT LAKE CITY — Volunteers and workers from Utah are on their way to the east coast to prepare for relief and rescue efforts as Hurricane Florence approaches.
A team of 16 firefighters left Utah early Tuesday morning for a specialized water rescue mission. They were selected from Utah Task Force 1 — coordinated by the Unified Fire Authority and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The team — one of 28 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces — will drive to Bowling Green, Virginia, and will likely arrive on Thursday morning, said Unified Fire Authority spokesperson Ryan Love.
"We'll have guys pre-positioned for when the storm hits and people need evacuating," Love said.
Residents in the area have been told to evacuate, but the task force will be there to rescue those who didn't get out.
The specialized task force, known as a "mission ready package," can be more mobile and respond more quickly, due to only having to transport specialized equipment for the sole purpose of water rescue.
"Many people think hurricanes are more of a wind event, but we look at it more as a water event," Love said. "That's what causes the most damages and rescues."
Volunteers and staff from the American Red Cross in Utah are also on their way, and many more are expected to go as the storm develops.
As of Tuesday morning, four volunteers and two staff members were on their way or processed and ready to go, said Rich Woodruff, American Red Cross communications director for Utah and Nevada.
"It's inevitable that we'll send more," Woodruff said. "We just don't know where they're going to be sent yet."
As the storm develops, relief teams will have a better idea of what and where the worst damage will be and where the most help will be needed. Around 50 people from the American Red Cross in Utah went to aid Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in 2017, he said.
Most will fly, and some will drive emergency response vehicles.
Woodruff said Red Cross helpers — mostly volunteers, some staff — will primarily be helping at temporary shelters for thousands of evacuated residents.
After taking care of hurricane victims' immediate needs, Woodruff said volunteers and staff will help with assessing damage and helping with recovery efforts.
Donations to the Red Cross' relief efforts can be made by texting the word FLORENCE to 90999 to make a $10 donation, calling 1-800-RED CROSS, or online at redcross.org.