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PA Task Force 1 assists in search and rescue operations following Hurricane Ian

Cars and debris from washed away homes line a canal in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., Oct. 5, 2022, one week after the passage of Hurricane Ian.
Rebecca Blackwell
Cars and debris from washed away homes line a canal in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., Oct. 5, 2022, one week after the passage of Hurricane Ian.

Pennsylvania Task Force 1 continues its work in Fort Myers, Florida, which saw extensive damage done to its waterfront, and left many residents without power and drinkable water.

Last week, 45 members of PA-TF1 drove more than 500 miles from Philadelphia to Columbia, South Carolina before being relocated to hard hit Lee County. Philadelphia Fire shared photos of the task force on Tuesday via twitter.

The storm made landfall in Southwest Florida as a Category 4 hurricane with winds reaching 150 miles per hour, just five miles shy of being Category 5. Only four hurricanes have hit the continental United States with winds greater than 155 mph.

As of Oct. 3, authorities were still calculating the damage from the hurricane. Hazardous Materials Manager Patrick Turner said the task force’s job right now is to help others in their “absolute worst time of need.”

“I can’t imagine having to rebuild a house, let alone a complete life,” Turner said. “You know, we’re all going home when we go home. We have jobs. We have families. We have places to live. The majority of the people, they are starting over from zero.”

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The city dealt with a record storm surge of just over seven feet when the storm hit. Turner said the devastation he’s seeing is shocking.

“There’s no rhyme or reason as to why this house appears to be relatively untouched, while the houses on either side of it are gone,” Turner said. “You know, when I say gone, they’re gone. Picture, you know, for the people in the Philadelphia area, picture Ocean City, New Jersey or Atlantic City or Sea Isle [City], just gone.”

Turner says the team is prepared to be there for at least 14 days, but there’s no set date for their return.

“I think the bigger problem you have with us is we’re all the type of personalities. we want to stay until the job is really done, and sometimes we have to, you know, kind of turn the mission back over to the people that asked us to be here,” Turner said. “Whether it is for another week, two weeks, ten days, we’re here for the duration and that’s what we do.”

PA-TF1 includes members of the Philadelphia Fire Department and first responders from across the state who are specially trained in urban search-and-rescue efforts.

Read more from our partners, WHYY.