As Hurricane Florence struck North Carolina with deadly force Friday, trapping hundreds of residents in attics and on rooftops, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan sent a National Guard helicopter rescue team to help first responders there, and the state opened shelters for any evacuees who may have fled north.
The shelters, in Prince George’s and Queen Anne’s counties, were also meant to ensure the state is ready when Florence’s remnants are forecast to turn northward in the coming days. The forecast for early next week was still unclear Friday, but suggested a post-tropical depression could pass over West Virginia into Pennsylvania on Monday and Tuesday.
“As coastal states feel the impact of Hurricane Florence, we are working to ensure that any travelers, evacuees, or Maryland residents seeking shelter have a safe place to stay during the storm, and we also stand ready to assist other states,” Hogan said in a statement.
At least four people died and hundreds were reported trapped along the North Carolina coast as Florence struck with 90 mph winds. With the storm expected to move slowly inland across the Carolinas through Saturday, posing extended flooding threats, Hogan authorized deployment of the Maryland Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, known as MD-HART.
The squad includes 11 crew members from the Maryland Army National Guard, and helicopter search and rescue technicians from Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Montgomery counties.
They fly two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and are capable of rescuing people from vehicles in swift floodwaters, on rooftops, through windows or balconies, and from trees or wilderness.
It was not immediately clear where the team would be deployed or how it would be assisting, said Col. Charles Kohler, a Guard spokesman.
“When there’s a disaster like this, sometimes people don’t have the ability to access 911,” Kohler said. “A lot of times they will do search and rescue looking for people that are in distress.”
Maryland already sent one other elite team to help in Hurricane Florence rescue and recovery. Maryland Task Force One, an urban search-and-rescue team based in Rockville, deployed to South Carolina on Wednesday.
Maryland meanwhile opened hurricane shelters Friday at Ritchie Coliseum at the University of Maryland, College Park, and at the College Health Professions and Athletics Center at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. About a dozen people had made use of the shelters as of Friday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services said.
Paula Tolson, the spokeswoman, said a large number of evacuees was not expected to use the shelters immediately, but that the state wanted to open them just in case.
After drenching the Carolinas, Florence is forecast to move into eastern Tennessee and Kentucky on Sunday and Monday, possibly reaching central Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Depending on the path, that could mean steady rain and severe storms could extend into Maryland, most likely in western portions of the state.
Dan Hofmann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Baltimore/Washington forecast office, said downpours are likely along the track of Florence’s remnants — the question is just how far south and east they will extend as what is expected to become a post-tropical depression heads toward New England by the middle of the week.
“There’s still uncertainty in the track itself, and the moisture field is very large,” Hofmann said. “We’re going to be in an environment favorable for heavy rain.”