Swift-Water Rescues in Hurricane Florence’s Storm Surge

This scene from New Bern, North Carolina, is flooding from Hurricane Florence. The flooding required swift-water rescues.
Image: Twitter

Hurricane Florence may have slowed, but the storm surge has led to numerous swift-water rescues in New Bern, North Carolina, requiring critical safety points for first responders.

Despite warnings from governors, many people in the Carolina coasts, and Virginia’s, stayed in their homes to ride out Hurricane Florence as the hurricane battered shores and river uplands with the storm surges that come along with greater velocity storms.

According to CNN, upwards of 40 inches of rainfall expected over three days overwhelmed New Bern, North Carolina, and first responders rescuing were rescuing hundreds by Friday morning.

Hurricane Florence also quickly cut power to 620,000+ customers across the Carolinas and the slow moving storm (6 mph) had Federal Emergency Management Agency teams and others working swift-water rescues.

Editor’s Note, Update September 18, 2018: PennLive.com reported the death toll from rose to at least 32 people in three states, with 25 deaths in North Carolina. Wilmington, North Carolina, is cut off by flood waters.

Editor’s Note, Update September 17, 2018: CNN reports that there have been more than 1,000 swift-boat rescues and 18 deaths through the weekend.

FireRescue1’s Robert Avsec recalled Hurricane Floyd’s devastation in 1999 — “swiftly rising rivers and creeks that flow through eastern North Carolina.” Floodwaters overwhelmed agricultural and livestock farms and flowed through sewage plants, creating a toxic soup that crested to 24 feet above the Tar River’s flood stage and presented numerous hazards for the first responders.

Floodwaters present an especially hazardous environment for emergency responders as those floodwaters likely contain human and animal waste, petroleum products and chemicals. And then there are the physical hazards of floating debris, displaced propane tanks of all sizes and construction materials from destroyed buildings,” according to Avsec.

In such an environment, first responders performing water rescues should follow these five critical safety tips:

  1. Ensure full decon – Rescuers need to be fully decontaminated and may need to dispose of gear following the event.
  2. Know critical points of apparatus – Air intakes and computer modules can become flooded and deactivated in high water situations.
  3. Determine road passage – Responders should check the depth of water, current and the stability of the road surface under the water before attempting to pass.
  4. Wear appropriate water safety gear – Rescue helmets and Class III or V personal flotation devices (PFDs) must be worn by rescuers.
  5. Don’t wear structural firefighting gear – Water depth and velocity can overwhelm fire officers wearing this type of gear during floodwater operations.

Access Avsec’s full article on FireRescue1.com.

Review our pre-storm emergency preparations coverage:

Hurricane Florence by the Pre-Landfall Numbers

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.