Local rescue team sent to Texas to help Harvey victims

SAN DIEGO — A search-and-rescue team from San Diego that previously deployed to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was on its way Monday to a staging area in San Antonio to offer help to the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force 8 is one of 28 federal urban search and rescue teams and specializes in large-scale urban disasters, and more specifically confined space search-and-rescue operations when structures have collapsed, according to the city of San Diego.

Task Force 8, which is made up of 21 agencies from across the county, including nearly all of the county’s fire departments, was activated Saturday night and deployed early Sunday morning. Videos and photographs posted on Facebook showed emergency crews loading several semi-trailers with gear and supplies.

“They are currently just past El Paso,” San Diego Fire-Rescue Department spokeswoman Monica Munoz said late Monday morning. “They were originally en route to the staging area in Fort Worth, then they were directed to Houston, and most recently they were directed to the staging area in San Antonio.”

Harvey, which is now a tropical storm, made landfall in Texas on Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane before moving back over the Gulf of Mexico. It has already dropped more than 30 inches of rain in some areas and caused devastating flooding in Houston and the surrounding areas. The Houston police chief said Monday morning that authorities have already made at least 2,000 rescues in the city.

The San Diego team on its way to provide aid includes 24 members of the SDFRD, Munoz said. The Santee Fire Department and Heartland Fire & Rescue both tweeted about sending personnel with the team.

Task Force 8 is made up of 21 agencies plus a structural engineer from the Development Services Department, Munoz said. The team consists of 70 technical rescue and incident management specialists and is coordinated by the city of San Diego through the SDFRD.

“San Diego team members have been dispatched to the World Trade Center after Sept. 11, 2001, the Northridge earthquake in 1994, the 1995 Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing and several hurricane disaster areas, including when Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005,” according to the city of San Diego website.

The task force has extensive experience responding to hurricane disasters. Aside from Hurricane Katrina, Task Force 8 members also deployed to Hurricane Rita, which struck the Gulf about a month after Katrina; Hurricane Ernesto, which struck the east coast in 2006; and the busy hurricane season of 2008 that saw Gustav, Ike and Hanna all wreak havoc in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, according to its website.