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Ohio Task Force One Deploys 49 Rescue Workers To Houston

As Houston struggles with the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which brought record rainstorms and flooding to large parts of Texas and Louisiana, people from across the country have rushed to aid in search and rescue missions. Among their ranks: Ohio's Task Force One.

Jack Reall, deputy fire chief for the city of Columbus, says 49 members of Task Force One have been deployed to the Houston metro area - which can use all the help it can get.

"We've been doing a lot of boat operations, that's primarily what we're here for, swift-water rescue" Reall says. "Yesterday, we evacuated a nursing home with 80 residents and 25 staff using our high water vehicles."

Task Force One is comprised of mostly firefighters, with some civilians, and is one of the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams that provide help during natural and man-made disasters.

After arriving in Texas on Friday, Reall says they've started collaborating with local agencies on a search and rescue plan to coordinate evacuations, as well as identifying areas at risk of flooding. 

By Tuesday morning, a rain gauge in Houston was recorded at 49.32 inches and rising, a state record. Reall says the team has found some areas of Houston starting to drain, while others are only getting worse. 

"Our boat operations, though, we're into the hundreds now," Reall says.

Houston's Police Department has rescued more than 3,500 people by Tuesday, and the city fire department responded to 1,000 calls. Tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes, and several people have been reported dead.

Reall has been part of Ohio's FEMA team for 20 years, and has been on over 15 national deployments, including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. While Katrina saw more of a storm surge and greater wind damage, Reall says the flood damage from Hurricane Harvey has been the worse he's ever seen.

Credit Ohio Task Force One
Ohio Task Force One has so far rescued hundreds of people from flooding in Houston.

"I don't know that we'll, in my lifetime, I'll ever see anything worse. But when you take an area as big as the Houston metro area and put it under water, and then make that water, you know, very fast water, it's a very difficult environment to work in," Reall says. "It's a difficult environment to make sure that 7 million people in this metro area are safe."

Reall says there's no community big enough to handle a disaster like this on its own, saying it's critical that people provide assistance where they can - including government support.

"The pictures do not do justice to it," Reall says.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.