The Virginia Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team mobilized and departed Virginia for Houston on Sunday evening, bringing along their water rescue package.
On Friday, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas as a Category 4 storm. While the wind gusts exceeded 131 miles per hour, the non-stop rain is what has turned the Houston metro area -- and its surrounding communities -- into disaster zones. Some estimates suggest that the storm will dump upwards of 50 inches of rain in certain areas.
Though based in Virginia, the Virginia Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team is organized and managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They are trained to respond to a number of different types of disasters and emergencies, including everything from hurricanes and tornados to nuclear attacks. Their water rescue package consists of watercraft, a six-wheel off-road vehicle, gas generators, and other supplies.
By Monday morning, the team had already reached Alabama and reported that they were "traveling well." By the evening, they had reached Texas.
The team's mobilization was made possible by changes put into place after 2005's Hurricane Katrina. During that storm, poor communication and coordination between local, state, and federal agencies exacerbated the damage done by the storm. Since then, Congress has passed legislation allowing FEMA to react faster to emergencies and mobilize nationwide resources when necessary.
Before Harvey even made landfall, President Donald Trump issued disaster declaration for Texas's gulf counties. The early declaration allowed for the Virginia Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team to be mobilized so quickly. Since the storm turned towards the northeast, the President has issued a similar disaster declaration for affected counties in Louisiana.
In Houston, the Virginia Task Force will work alongside volunteer crews as they try to rescue people stranded in their homes by rising floodwaters. Over the weekend, the "Cajun Navy" mobilized in Louisiana and set off towards Houston to aid in the search and rescue. Estimated to include 50 boats, the volunteer "Navy" expected to at least double in size between Lafayette and the flood-ravaged portions of Texas.
Because the storm is expected to dump rain for most of the week, the flooding in many areas is expected to get worse before it gets better.
This photo of a flooded nursing home -- showing elderly residents sitting and standing in chest-deep flood water inside the building -- prompted an emergency rescue on Sunday evening. Many of the nursing home's residents were confined to wheelchairs and had to be rescued by helicopter. Others were saved by volunteer boat crews.
Other footage coming out of Texas showed a fan boat -- adorned with a Confederate battle flag -- rescuing stranded Houston residents. In the wake of Charlottesville, the fact that this boat owner was helping to rescue African-American flood victims was not lost on people.
The only silver lining so far from any of this is that in the face of this horrible natural disaster, we've seen that good, decent people still exist and are willing to sacrifice to help their neighbors and countrymen in need. At a time when the country feels as divided as ever, this horrible natural disaster has brought out the best in people. Whether it is the Virginia Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team, the "Cajun Navy," or just one guy in a fan boat, this disaster has brought all people together.