On Friday, Ohio Task Force One began its first search and rescue mission since Hurricane Sandy spun into the New Jersey coastline on Monday.
The 79 members of the task force were deployed to Joint Base McGuire-Dix- Lakehurst before boarding a bus and arriving in Seaside Heights sometime after 6 a.m.
Seaside Heights, known as the location for where MTV’s hit reality show “Jersey Shore” was filmed, was one of the hardest hit areas.
When task members arrived to the community near Tom’s River, they saw sand-covered houses and streets and a sea of boats that had capsized, likely with help from Sandy’s 80-mile per hour winds.
It’s breezy with temperatures around 54 degrees. The task force members were anxious to get started and most of the locals that they ran into had opted to stay in their homes when they received news that the hurricane was coming.
“Ninety-eight to ninety-nine percent of the people have evacuated and heeded the warnings of the local government here and the Weather Channel,” said Jim McGrath of the Kettering Fire Department and medical specialist for the task force. “The one or two percent that stuck around seem to be in fairly decent spirits. They have supplies and they can take care of themselves.”
Jack Buzzi was one the residents who decided to stay on the island. He said he considered himself lucky because his house did not suffer significant damage like other houses around where he lives. “I just feel bad because they thought their houses were safe and their houses failed them,” he said of his neighbors. Buzzi also helped to rescue at least two his neighbors who had been trapped in their homes.
“She was in a house that dropped 10 feet and then split in half. Then the storm surge was so high, the power lines were falling. The waves were coming over the power lines,” Buzzi said. “I ran out with a flashlight, life jackets, got to the house and I failed to rescue the first time. I thought she was gone. I was heart broken when I got home.”
He then found out that he was looking in the wrong place and was able to help rescue the woman. He used a kayak to help rescue another neighbor who had been trapped in her attic.
“The fires were so close to their house, we thought they were going to be burned,” Buzzi said.
Highlights of Friday’s mission:
9:30 a.m. Task force members start checking homes for stranded or injured people. “Trying to get to the houses has been the problem,” McGrath said, referring to the fact that sand and even parts of houses were blown onto the streets. Some bulldozers are out shoveling sand, trying to clear a path for vehicles. Task force members also entered unoccupied houses to unplug electronic appliances as a way to prevent fires when the electricity returns. Each house they enter, they mark with tape or stickers.
10:25 a.m. Task force members find a married couple in their home, along with their teenage son and several dogs. They stayed in the home during the hurricane. The family said they did not want to leave their home, but asked for assistance in charging their cell phones. Task force members said they would relay the request to local authorities. “They probably feel self-sufficient,” McGrath said. “A lot of the people that we did talk to, have generators, plenty of food, plenty of water. Their houses are secure. They feel like staying would be just as well as going somewhere else.” Some of the locals told reporters that they are happy to see the media because they had heard rumors of people getting arrested for not evacuating.
1:54 p.m. The task force regroups and returns to the command post set up by FEMA and New Jersey officials.
4:30 p.m. “We’re not finding people that are stranded, that are in dire straights, that made a bad decision and are now regretting it,” McGrath said. “I think we’re all good that the people that have stayed are healthy and safe. And the rest of the people got out.”
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