Rescuers belonging to Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 8 assembled in Marion County on Wednesday in anticipation of heading north to the Florida Panhandle area to help victims of Hurricane Michael.
Task Force 8 is comprised of 27 specialists from Marion County Fire Rescue, Ocala Fire Rescue and Gainesville Fire Rescue. The group assembled at the Marion County Fire Rescue Operations and Training complex on Maricamp Road with about $1 million worth of equipment.
Task Force 8’s mission will be to provide search-and-rescue efforts in the areas hit by the hurricane, which was a very strong category 4 storm when it roared ashore at 1:40 p.m. Wednesday.
The storm, packing sustained winds of 155 mph – just 2 mph short of Category 5 status – made landfall near Mexico Beach and Panama City, ripping apart buildings, snapping trees like twigs, sending dangerous debris flying through the air and flooding streets and neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, several different strike teams staged at the Florida State Fire College in northern Ocala. Teams from the college, FEMA, Urban Search and Rescue and Florida Fish and Wildlife were joined by ambulance units, military members and other strikes teams – all prepared to head north as soon possible to help those in need.
Once the teams arrived at the fire college, located at 11655 NW Gainesville Rd., they spent time getting their equipment ready and going over plans for when they arrive in the Panhandle. The teams – some from as far away as Miami-Date County – ate together in the fire college’s cafeteria and bunked down on cots in various places throughout the multi-building facility.
Hurricane Michael is the third-strongest storm on record to hit the United States by barometric pressure and the fourth-strongest by wind speed, weather experts say. It also is the strongest October hurricane on record to hit the U.S.
Michael also is the strongest of the four hurricanes that have come ashore at the Panhandle. The others are Eloise in 1975, Opal in 1995 and Dennis in 2005.