08/31/11 — Arr-Mac team helps hurricane victims along coast

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Arr-Mac team helps hurricane victims along coast

By Gary Popp
Published in News on August 31, 2011 1:46 PM

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Members of the Arr-Mac Swift Water Response Team, from left, James Cornell, Doug Honeycutt and Anthony Mullis, stand in the Mar-Mac Fire Station. The water response unit rescued 29 people in Pamlico County during Hurricane Irene.

As morning turned to afternoon Saturday, members of the Arr-Mac Water Response Team, mobilized because of Hurricane Irene, were beginning to think they might not be needed after all.

But shortly after noon, 12 members from the Arr-Mac Water Response Team, the Swift Water Response Team, found themselves quickly loading into several response vehicles, and with two of their rescue boats in tow, driving through the hurricane to Pamlico County where they would spend the next 30 hours putting their unique set of skills to work.

Arriving at the courthouse where the county's sparse emergency response services had set up a headquarters, the Arr-Mac team was assigned to a large swath of the northwest part of the county, including lowland areas, where people were confronting swift water currents and severe flooding.

The team was paired up with a deputy of the Pamilco County Sheriff's Office and four members of the National Guard to conduct door-to-door checks.

Mar-Mac fire chief and member of the Arr-Mac Swift Water Response Team Bill Harrell said most of the homes were flooded with 3 to 4 feet of water.

At one of the homes, the Arr-Mac team rescued residents who had entered the attic to escape the rapidly rising water.

By the end of the day, Arr-Mac had rescued 26 people from six homes, pulling them to safety and putting them on National Guard trucks -- 5-ton vehicles with 54 inch tires -- to be taken to local shelters.

Arr-Mac member Doug Honeycutt explained how people in one of the homes were forced to survive as water from the Pamlico Sound flooded residential areas.

"They had stood up all night in the water waist deep because if they went outside it would have been over their head. Their vehicle was flooded out, so they couldn't go anywhere and they where in a rural area. There was nothing around them," he said. "They were just standing in the water."

As the team patrolled from home to home, people in need of help started flagging them down.

"People were coming to us. Once they saw us out there, they knew what we were there for and they would come to us to go help a neighbor or help a friend," Honeycutt said.

Working until dark, the Arr-Mac members then returned to the courthouse and spent the night sleeping in the Pamlico County Clerk of Court office.

Then, early Sunday morning, the team was back at it, this time fighting hot temperatures and mosquitoes "as big as their hands," instead of forceful winds and falling trees.

With the clearer conditions, though, the team was able to venture further into the county and onto Goose Creek Island, where they searched every house and helped another three people safely get out of their home and into a shelter before finally returning home to Wayne County around 7 p.m. Sunday.

Team member James Cornell said the extreme flooding was something many Pamlico residents had never experienced.

"We were told by people who had been there 30, 40 years and they had never seen it that bad," Cornell said.

Arr-Mac members said that despite the harsh conditions, many of the Pamlico residents were hesitant or refused to vacate their homes.

"They are kind of a tough breed down there," Cornell said.