North Carolina National Guard rescue teams head to Texas
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: August 29, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Two teams of specially trained North Carolina National Guard soldiers and civilian first responders are on their way to Texas to assist in rescue operations related to Hurricane Harvey.
The soldiers are part of the state’s Helo-Aquatic Rescue Team, also known as NCHART, which helped with search and rescue operations during Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina last year.
Eight soldiers and six civilian rescue technicians were en route to San Antonio in two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters on Monday, according to officials with the North Carolina National Guard.
They were to be joined in Texas by two emergency management area coordinators who left North Carolina on Sunday. Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he’d be sending the teams on Sunday, after receiving a request for help from Texas.
"Our state knows from experience with hurricanes how devastating flooding can be," Cooper said. "Our hearts go out to the people of Texas, and we have two seasoned search and rescue teams with vast experience on their way to help.”
The soldiers include pilots and crew of the Salisbury-based NCHART. The rescue technicians include civilian EMTs from organizations in Charlotte, Asheville and Transylvania County. The teams are expected to spend the next 10 days supporting rescue missions related to swelling floodwaters caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Thousands have been displaced across the state since Harvey made landfall on Friday as a Category 4 hurricane. In the days since, officials have rescued more than 2,000 people and responded to more than 5,500 calls for service in Houston alone.
On Monday, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott activated the entire Texas National Guard — about 12,000 troops — to assist in rescue efforts.
Texas also has agreed to fully reimburse North Carolina for its help. The state requested North Carolina’s help through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which helps coordinate relief for disaster-stricken states.
The North Carolina rescue teams include experienced crew members who helped rescue residents trapped in floodwaters following Hurricane Matthew in October. At that time, search and rescue crews pulled more than 2,300 people from flooded homes and cars, including more than 100 helicopter rescues.
The NCHART team also responds to rescues not related to hurricanes — such as plucking lost hikers from hard-to-reach parts of western North Carolina.
"North Carolina is very fortunate to have a strong team of professionals who are more than willing to share their knowledge and experience to help others," Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks said in a release about the mission. "Having additional staff who have 'been there, done that' is invaluable during disasters."
NCHART was formed in 2004 between the state National Guard and local firefighter rescue technicians. More than 60 specially-trained technicians who are part of the team train monthly to rescue people from rapidly moving water, mountains, cliffs and waterfalls.
The team has deployed crews outside of North Carolina on several occasions, including in response to flooding in South Carolina and West Virginia in 2015, after tornadoes in Virginia that same year, following flooding in Alaska in 2007, and during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005.
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org