Virginia Task Force 2 sending more members to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas

Forty-five members of Virginia Task Force Team Two are in San Juan, Puerto Rico Thursday

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- As Virginia Beach-based Urban Search and Rescue Team Virginia Task Force 2 (VA-TF2) conducts damage assessments in Puerto Rico, additional personnel are gearing up to head out to San Juan.

Eleven VA-TF2 members left San Juan late Thursday night for St. Thomas.

A team of 45 emergency workers left Virginia Beach Monday for San Juan and safely rode out the storm. The powerful wind and rain left more than half of the island without power.

"They're out getting around as much as they can, to see for themselves, get eyes on what's going on. Also, we're waiting for instructions from the governor of Puerto Rico, and the other emergency response teams that Puerto Rico has, to tell us where needs might be," said spokesman Art Kohn. 

Currituck County Fire and EMS Lieutenant Ray Irizarry said it was essential to be in San Juan, Puerto Rico before Irma makes landfall.

"'Time is life,' is what we call it. So if we're there, right there as the storm passes, then we're there to mitigate those issues," said Irizarry.

PHOTOS: Virginia Task Force 2 in Puerto Rico

On Thursday afternoon, the decision was made to send 16 more members of VA-TF2 to Puerto Rico.

Depending on the need, VA-TF2 could be asked to lend assistance to relief efforts for the US Virgin Islands in addition to Puerto Rico. 

The team in San Juan reported sustained winds there last night at 65 mph with gust greater than 75 mph.  More than 1 million people were without power and flash flood warnings were posted as a result of heavy rainfall.

VA-TF2 is one of 28 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue Teams stationed across the country.

The Virginia Beach Fire Department is the sponsoring agency for VA-TF2 but in addition to VBFD, firefighters from Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News, James City County and Williamsburg Fire Departments make up the team headed to San Juan.  

Three non-affiliated members of the task force include a doctor, and canine handlers. Combined, the task force members specialize in heavy and technical rescue, HAZMAT, water rescue, structural collapse and all aspects of search and rescue operations.   

"Several members of the crew already have experience working in situations where survivors need to be rescued," said Virginia Beach District Chief Michael Barakey.

"Virginia Task Force 2 has been around for many years," he stated, "It started in 1995 going to Oklahoma City for the Oklahoma City bombing, many deployments between that and 2001, up to the Pentagon on the terrorist attacks on America, Haiti in 2010."

In fact, other members of Task Force 2 are home after spending a week in Katy, TX helping residents there recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey.

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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