Two of McDowell County’s emergency response leaders are currently assisting in a state and national efforts to help the people of Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria.

For the past seven weeks, North Carolina incident management teams (IMT) have worked alongside their counterparts from Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA) in several capacities. Currently, three teams are supporting different emergency operations centers on the island. A 10-person team is serving in the island’s main emergency operations center (EOC) in San Juan, and two six-person teams are staffing emergency operations centers in Zones 7 and 8, mountainous areas in the center of the island that were some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

“North Carolina is considered a national leader for disaster response and recovery,” said Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks. “Emergency managers at the local and state level continually train and exercise together so they can respond together and that experience has paid off both here at home and when called upon to help others.”

Maria, which landed in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20, has caused major catastrophic damage to the territory and other affected areas, resulting in a complete power outage on the island upon initial impact – now currently 50 percent restored to the commonwealth, according to the Los Angeles Times – and at least 55 confirmed deaths in Puerto Rico by current estimates.

Among those assisting in hurricane relief include McDowell’s Emergency Services Director William Kehler and Capt. Donnie Tipton, who were deployed to Puerto Rico on Nov. 12 as part of two state IMTs. They will return to the United States on Dec. 3.

The first team arrived on the island Oct. 1. The four-person-team, comprised of two NC Emergency Management employees and two from the NC Department of Agriculture, was requested to help with critical animal issues. A 10-person team followed Oct. 10 and was divided to support three emergency operations centers as they coordinated storm relief efforts. Two other teams to support the island’s main EOC have followed with a third team deployed on Nov. 17.

“Since our first group deployed to the island, Puerto Rico has continued to specifically request North Carolina teams to help staff their operations,” said Mike Sprayberry, state emergency management director. “I’m proud of the work our teams have done, and grateful for the support we have received from state and local agencies here in North Carolina to build the best possible teams for these complex assignments that are being performed in austere conditions.”

Agencies who have contributed members to the teams working in Puerto Rico include: NC Emergency Management, State Highway Patrol, NC National Guard, NC Office of Emergency Medical Services, NC Department of Agriculture, Greensboro, Charlotte and Raleigh fire departments, Buncombe Rescue Squad and county emergency management offices in Chatham, Haywood, Hyde, Lee, McDowell and Wilson counties.

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