DALLAS - First responders and volunteers in Texas are gearing up as thousands of people flee the East Coast ahead of Hurricane Florence.
Several cities in the Carolinas have issued a mandatory evacuation order that started Wednesday morning. It’s a way of emergency officials strongly advising people to leave their homes before the monster Category 4 storm hits with high winds and drenching rain that could last for days.
Meanwhile, Texas Task Force 1 is headed to North Carolina. A team of 16 members left College Station with equipment Monday night.
Texas Task Force 1 is among 28 federal teams under FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue system. It also sent a group to support FEMA’s response to Hurricane Olivia in Hawaii. Other members are in Galveston as the state monitors a tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dozens of American Red Cross worker from Texas are also headed to North Carolina to provide help. That includes teams from Dallas and Fort Worth. Other Red Cross workers headed to North Carolina are from Texarkana, Brownwood and Wichita Falls.
“When Texas heads to North Carolina we know what happens. We know what’s going to happen on the ground and when teams come together it’s an interesting thing to see as people who really don’t know each other but have the training that lets them do the job that needs to be done,” said Dan Halyburton, a public affairs volunteer for the Red Cross.
The Red Cross anticipates more disaster workers will be requested in the coming days.
About 150 Texans with America’s Cajun Navy also hit the road for the East Coast on Wednesday. The volunteer group’s Texas captain, Taylor Fontenot, said they planned to meet at Buc-ee’s in Baytown and then would make the trip to North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia where they’d spread out and prepare to rescue those in need.
“We’ll have another 100 gallons of fuel in smaller tanks,” Fontenot said. “We’ll have the boat, LEDs to work at night...more gas cans, rain gear, all kinds of medical supplies.”
The Texas Baptist men also worked Wednesday, preparing to roll out their tractor trailer converted into a commercial kitchen that’s capable of feeding tens of thousands people.
“You don't know what to anticipate, but you know from past history, from flooding, wind damage what to expect,” said Terry Henderson. “We've already put our volunteers on alert to respond. We keep them updated daily.”
Henderson said the group could have up to 100 volunteers on-site preparing as many as 25,000 meals per day. To make it happen the group brings generators and everything else to make themselves self-sufficient, including water purification systems.
“You can take sewage water and drink it when it comes out of here,” Henderson said of the purification system.
Henderson said his group learned a lot after responding to a massive flooding event like Hurricane Harvey. It's knowledge they'll apply wherever they end up next.
Other organizations, like World Vision in Grand Prairie, are loading up boxes of supplies -- most donated from Costco. Necessities like diapers, cleaning products and toiletries will soon head to Georgia where they'll wait to be distributed to about 7,500 storm victims in the hardest-hit areas.
“We are only doing this because we want to be able to respond as soon as the area is safe to for us to go into,” said Gilbert Young, World Vision.
Many people in the path of the storm are still trying to make it out before it’s too late. Some of them shared their stories at DFW Airport.
“So this is my third year in a row evacuating for a hurricane,” said Caroline Greenblatt, a student at the College of Charleston. “It does feel a little bit more severe because usually the school is not as abrupt in its cancellation and same with the mandatory evacuations. Normally they wait a couple more days or even 24 more hours but this one was just really, really quick.”
As the hurricane nears, the number of cancellations at DFW and Love Field is continuing to grow. Travelers are encouraged to check with their airline for status updates.