ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – With boats, tents, trucks and all-terrain vehicles, Central Florida firefighters from seven fire departments are on the road to the state's Panhandle to help people in the path of Hurricane Matthew.
The Urban Search and Rescue Central Florida Task Force left the Orange County Fire Rescue warehouse at 6 p.m. Wednesday and will head to the Big Bend of Florida where it will set up its all-sustainable site and get ready to work starting at 5 a.m. Thursday.
Wednesday afternoon Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm near Mexico Beach, Florida bringing 155 mph winds. Reports of damages and flooding are already coming in.
"We can do anything from searching collapsed structures, we can do swift water rescue, we can do wide area search looking for anyone who is missing," said
The coordinator for the task force, Spencer Babinski, said the Urban Search and Rescue Central Florida Task Force is prepared to handle many types of events including water rescues and searching for survivors in collapsed buildings.
The task force is the same group who also responded to Hurricane Harvey last year. Then, they tallied more than 900 rescues and now they're ready to do it again.
"Nobody knew this was coming so when it did develop so quickly it took all of us by surprise," said firefighter David McDonald, with Seminole County Fire and Rescue. "Harvey, we had a lot more leeway, it was a lot slower moving. This one has been so fast everyone has been scrambling to get everything in order."
Tom Bailey walks his bike past a home that was carried across a road and slammed up against a condo complex as Hurricane Michael passed through the area on October 11, 2018 in Mexico Beach, Florida. The hurricane hit the panhandle area with category 4 winds causing major damage.
Across town in Orlando, volunteers were also getting everything in order to get 6,000 disaster boxes packed up at the Second Harvest Food Bank.
The boxes are smaller than what the food bank usually distributes, but are filled with the bare necessities for the immediate future. The boxes include ready to eat food, toilet paper and paper towels.
On Wednesday, Mike Eitel, who works in finance at Universal Studios, thought they were packing boxes for those in need locally, but was happy to hear he was sending help to those affected by Hurricane Matthew.
"It really makes you feel like you are doing a difference; like we know this box specifically is going to somebody that might have lost all their supplies and their homes," Eitel said closing a box ready to be taped. "It makes you feel good."
The Salvation Army is also sending 400 crews from the southeastern part of the United States, including four from right here in Central Florida who just got back from working in South Carolina after Hurricane Florence.
Not only will those crews be able to help those in need right after the storm, but they will be able to serve hot meals from their trucks staged in a safe spot right now, ready to go and serve once Hurricane Michael pulls away.
In neighboring Volusia County, the Beach Safety Patrol continued to fly the red flag to warn beachgoers of hazardous rip current conditions.
"It's pounding. If you go out there, it can pound you right into the sandbar. It's extremely dangerous. It's not the time to try and learn how to surf," Capt. Tammy Malphurs said.
Volusia County Public Schools also canceled all outdoor activities for Wednesday, as the district continues to monitor the weather. Dozens of power crews were staged at Daytona International Speedway before they took off early Wednesday morning, to join the rest of the crews that'll be making their way to the Panhandle.
The American Red Cross of Central Florida also worked non stop to pack up its emergency response vehicles with supplies.
"We've had a little over 500 Red Cross workers deploy already," said Tiffany Edwards, regional philanthropy officer.
Edwards said even more volunteers will deploy after the hurricane. However, some people will stay behind to residents who need help in Central Florida.
"Yes, it is hitting the Panhandle, but we don't know what the flooding may look like here locally, so we have to wait and see what we need here locally before we start deploying out," she said.