Hardee County is getting help from as far away as Oregon to help with Hurricane Ian relief efforts
Oregon’s Fire Marshal Incident Management Team traveled the farthest, with three others from Virginia, Ohio and New York, to assist in search and rescue missions as well as restoring power to Hardee County.
Around 50 emergency city, state and national responders have set up operations in Wauchula, a rural Florida town in Hardee County, as search and rescue efforts continue following Hurricane Ian.
Brett Deedon, an information officer with Oregon’s Fire Marshal Incident Management Team, arrived in Wauchula along with 12 others from his office following a request from the state of Florida on Monday to assist with Hurricane Ian.
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Deedon said the data on search and rescue missions is still being compiled.
“On the 29th, there were 49 water rescues by high-water boat rescue and four pet rescues as well. That’s just on the fire and rescue side,” Deedon said, adding that number doesn’t account for search and rescues completed by the National Guard or EMS strike teams that are also on site.
One of the biggest challenges facing the responders is the fact power has yet to be restored throughout the county.
"One of the biggest issues with Hardee right now is there's a major power line coming in that sustained significant damage," Deedon said. "We have crews that are working on it currently. But it's going to take some time to be able to get those power lines back up and going."
It's a challenge made even more difficult due to the widespread flooding across the county.
"Flooding definitely has created some access issues," Deedon said. "One of the things that has been talked about is the pumps for the water, a lot of those have been blocked by the flooding. And so to be able to access those has been waiting for the waters to recede so it can get to the pumps and get the water back on.
"Fortunately, we're moving in the right direction as far as the waters receding, and we hope they continue to get better access into power lines and into our water treatment areas. Sewage, water supply, all those major utilities."
Deedon's Incident Management Team oversees logistics to mobilize “boots on the ground” at Hardee County's Emergency Operations Center, where he estimates there are around 50 total city, state and federal responders — including members of the Florida National Guard.
He said his team has traveled the farthest, with three others from Virginia, Ohio and New York. They arrived in Tallahassee and traveled through Gainesville before heading to Hardee County.
“Life safety” is still top priority right now with ongoing search and rescue missions, Deedon said. On Saturday, flooding was averaging 25.2 feet, and the entire county remains on a boil water notice.
Deedon said the responders are operating on an Incident Emergency Plan that’s created every 24 hours, out of a building running on a generator and a trailer provided by Florida Department of Emergency Services.
Emergency personnel are operating on very little sleep, sometimes working 48 hours at a time, Deedon said, adding he expects more FEMA officials to trickle in coming days.