Chester County first responders leave for hurricane response effort.
Members of two Chester County volunteer fire companies are among those first responders now buttoning up against the onslaught of Hurricane Florence, according to one of the county’s top emergency officials.
On Wednesday, county Department of Emergency Services (DES) Deputy Director John Haynes said the men — Bill Cummings and Brad Cosgrove of West Chester’s Fame Fire Company and Mark Koenig of East Whiteland Fire Company — had been deployed to the Atlantic Coast as part of PA Task Force-1, an urban search and rescue outfit overseen by the Federal Emergency Managment Agency (FEMA).
The men left for South Carolina on Monday with about 75 other members of the task force from the Philadelphia area. Haynes said he did not know where the three had been sent, but that they would likely get assignments when the storm begins to hit, finding out where their talents are needed.
Cummings, Cosgrove and Koenig have all been trained and certified to assist in national emergency situations, he said. They are mobilized through the PA Task Force-1 group when called by FEMA for a major disaster, either in the state or elsewhere.
Haynes said he got a firsthand look at the preparations being made to tackle the effects of Hurricane Florence when it makes landfall sometime tonight (Thursday) and later on during the weekend. He attended a 9-1-1 emergency managers conference in North Carolina, and saw at least 150 utility truck making their way to the area on I-87 while he was coming back.
He said that at the conference, at least one-half of the attenders got up and left as news of the impending storm grew.
Coincidentally, the county commissioners on Wednesday proclaimed September to be National Preparedness Month, an annual event that attempts to highlight how residents and businesses can put planning to use during hurricane season. Bill Turner of the county DES encouraged residents to begin making a plan for what they will do if a natural disaster or terrorist event occurs in the county, including having an emergency kit.
Turner also said people should sign up for news alerts on the “REady Chesco, org” system and the “Smart9-1-1” program.
Along the Carolina coast, communities began preparing for Florence as forecasters Wednesday warned that the monstrous storm could hesitate just offshore for days — punishing a longer stretch of coastline than previously feared — before pushing its way inland.
The National Hurricane Center’s projected track had Florence hovering off the southern North Carolina coast from Thursday night until landfall Saturday morning or so, about a day later than previously expected. The track also shifted somewhat south and west, throwing Georgia into peril as Florence moves inland.
The overall trend is “exceptionally bad news,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it “smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge.”
As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, Florence, a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm, was centered 530 miles (855 kilometers) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving at 17 mph (28 kph). It was packing winds of 130 mph (215 kph) and enough moisture to dump feet of rain on the region.
“This is not going to be a glancing blow,” Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned. “This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.”
While some residents and tourists said they planned to stay put despite hurricane watches and warnings extending over the homes of more than 5.4 million people on the East Coast, many weren’t taking any chances.
Steady streams of vehicles full of people and belongings flowed inland Tuesday as North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper tried to convince everyone on North Carolina’s coast to flee.
“The waves and the wind this storm may bring is nothing like you’ve ever seen. Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster,” he said.
Florence is the most dangerous of three tropical systems in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Isaac was expected to pass south of Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, while Hurricane Helene was moving northward away from land. Forecasters also were tracking two other disturbances.
The coastal surge from Florence could leave the eastern tip of North Carolina under more than 9 feet (2.75 meters) of water in spots, projections showed. The Navy, Air Force and Army were moving ships and aircraft out of harm’s way. Thousands of Marines and their families evacuated from Camp Lejeune, leaving the rest to dig in ahead of what could be a direct hit.