When Howard County Assistant Fire Chief Gordon Wallace started his assignment in Harrells, N.C., he said he was stunned by the number of people who refused to leave their flooded homes.
The rural town last week was ravaged by Hurricane Florence, which has claimed at least 42 lives. Power was out, food was scarce and most roads could only be accessed by boat. And yet, they stayed.
“They are a very resilient people,” Wallace said. “People hunker down and they don’t want to leave.”
Wallace was sent to North Carolina on Sunday alongside eight Howard firemen to help with cleanup efforts. They were part of a Federal Emergency Management Agency Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, which included Robbie Helms, Barry Griffin, John Hettchen, Steve Schulz, Richard Trujillo, Brad Klukas, Lisa Smeltzer and Jeff Carl. The group checked on the well-being of residents in the town about 65 miles northwest of Wilmington, N.C., where the hurricane made landfall.
Only two people left the 200-person town during the period of mandatory evacuation, according to Wallace.
The team, which also includes nine firemen from Baltimore City, five National Guard troops and seven FBI agents which are used for protection, encountered homes submerged in water. But their mission wasn’t extraction. The primary goal was to provide medical assistance and dole out meal, ready-to-eat packets and water.
Wallace said the group encountered at least 200 people— many of whom were thankful they returned the favor. Team members, who would usually eat meal, ready-to-eat packets, were offered barbecue chicken, hot dogs and chili, ham, casserole and chocolate chip cookies by residents.
“We miss Maryland but we are glad to be here helping people out,” said Wallace. “We are happy to offer assistance.”
The group returned to a staging headquarters in Raleigh, N.C. on Friday, awaiting further instructions.