Nevada Task Force 1, an 80-member urban search-and-rescue team from Southern Nevada, began mobilizing early Sunday morning to help find the estimated 170 people who are missing in Colorado, driving to Fort Collins first to pick up its assignment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency before heading to Boulder County.
The team left in in a hurry at 1:30 a.m. after packing three 18-wheelers and two cargo trucks full of 50,000 pounds of rescue equipment, including four 16 foot aluminum boats with outboard motors, said Mario Trevino, program manager for the Task Force, late Saturday night.
The task force, formed in 1992, has traveled to catastrophic situations in the past, including the Oklahoma City bombing, the 9-11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York city, and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Trevino said.
Trevino said the task force was expected to arrive in Fort Collins in the northern reaches of the state by early Sunday night and would probably stay as long as two weeks. Mostly members were going to survive on military rations that come in packages, known as MREs.
“The task force is motivated. They’ve all seen what’s going on over there and they’re very much looking forward to helping people at this critical time,” Trevino said. “These are some of the worst flooding conditions I’ve ever seen, at least from what I can tell on the television.”
Comprised of dozens of firefighters from the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas and Clark County, the task force is also made up of logistics specialists who will help navigate the search and rescue — along with structural engineers who will be able to determine the integrity of bridges and whether their designs have been compromised by the swollen rivers.
Medical doctors are also going along to help treat the victims. There will also be several support vehicles, including all terrain vehicles and four K-9 dogs and their handlers.
Other equipment includes from self sustaining air masks, flotation devices and hydraulic tools like the Jaws of Life, which make it easier to rescue victims who are stuck in between crevices or need to be cut out from the underpinnings of steel structures.
The task force was on standby all day Friday and Saturday, waiting for a call to come in from FEMA late Saturday. And when it did, the firefighters quickly gathered at its heardquarters and underwent quick medical exams to see if they were fit for the mission. They were then sworn in as federal officers before they hit the road, traveling north and east through Utah, then east toward Denver.
Stacey Welling, a spokeswoman for Clark County, said the task force will work alongside the Colorado and Utah task forces of similar nature.
According to the Associated Press, four people have been confirmed dead so far out of the 170-plus unaccounted for, and the flood waters cover a space almost as big as the state of Connecticut.
Up to 12 inches of rain was recorded by the National Weather Service in Colorado during the span of Sept. 10-13. Sunday morning, 15 counties in the state were included in a weather service flood warning. Fort Collins, where Task Force 1 was going, had a high of 61 degrees Sunday and a 60% chance of rain.
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.
Annalise Porter contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.