WASHINGTON – Federal agencies say they’re ready to move in once Hurricane Florence moves on.
Trucks filled with food, water and other basic supplies, helicopters equipped to provide aerial reconnaissance and shallow-water boats outfitted for search and rescue missions are in various staging areas around the Carolinas and Virginia waiting to kick off a recovery that could take weeks or longer.
“This is not the end of it,” Jeff Byard, FEMA’s associate administrator for the Office of Response and Recovery, told reporters at a briefing Friday morning. “Twenty-four to 36 hours remain of a significant threat from heavy rain (and) heavy surge.”
Around 7:15 a.m., the center of Florence made landfall Friday near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
Despite being downgraded again late Thursday night, this time to a Category 1 storm, Florence is projected to bring “hurricane-force winds and life-threatening storm surge” as it makes its way on a southwest trek along the Carolina coasts.
The storm’s relentless rain had already resulted in serious flooding in low-lying areas and its gusting winds knocked out power for thousands of people in North Carolina. A tornado watch for the area is in effect until Friday night and some areas could see as much as 40 inches of rain.
Hundreds of people are awaiting rescue from their homes in New Bern, N.C., as flood waters rise from Hurricane Florence.
“We’re estimating we’ve rescued 150-200,” New Bern Police Lt. David Daniels said early Friday morning, who estimates an additional 150-200 are waiting to be rescued.
During Friday morning’s press briefing, representatives from several federal agencies and civic organizations provided updates on their recovery plans:
– Health and Human Services has declared public health emergencies in North Carolina and South Carolina to ease treatment of patients. The declaration allows qualified medical staff from elsewhere who may not be certified in either state to treat victims, and allows patients from the storm area to get reimbursed for care they receive in case their medical insurance doesn’t cover it.
The agency is also coordinating with FEMA to activate a national contract that makes additional ambulances available to evacuate hospitals and nursing homes if needed.
– The Pentagon has deployed 9,700 military and civilian workers to the area, some of whom are already helping in rescue missions. At Fort Bragg near Fayetteville, North Carolina, several hundred trailers filled with food, water and other supplies are ready to be dispatched to communities in need once the storm passes.
– More than 40,000 crews from 17 states are staged outside the storm’s footprint, ready to restore power as soon as it’s safe to do so. The crews are in place thanks to “mutual assistance” agreements in place for disaster response.
Power outages from Hurricane Florence have topped 500,000 customers, according to one analysis. Most of the outages are in North Carolina, though several thousand are without power in South Carolina.The Weather Channel estimated that up to 3 million customers might lose power due to Florence.
– The U.S. Coast Guard has positioned 40 aircraft – about one fifth of its entire air fleet – immediately outside the storm’s path to begin search and rescue operations once it’s safe to do so.
Also, the agency is poised to deploy teams and boats that can operate in shallow water to provide law enforcement, maritime security and response to chemical spills or other environmental dangers excess flooding can cause.
“We have what we need staged throughout the area both in manpower and teams as well as commodities, resources and communications,” FEMA’s Byard said.
Contributing: Doyle Rice, Joey Gill, USA TODAY Network