Just days after returning from Texas, South Carolina DNR officers are headed to Florida to help with search and rescue missions in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Fifty Department of Natural Resource officers hit the road today, hauling 13 ATVs, 12 boats, 1,000 gallons of fuel, and enough food and water to last two weeks.
““It’s an adrenaline rush for sure. Because this is what we train to do,” said Lieutenant D.J. Riley. “Our officers work in the water all, throughout the year all the time, and water rescues, being around this situation, it’s what we prepare to do.”
Lt. Riley and 27 other officers just got back from Texas Friday and didn’t bother unpacking for their new deployment.
“it’s what makes you get up in the morning and go to work. You never know as a game warden what you’ll be doing. One day it’s an ordinary day, checking hunting, fishing license, and the next thing you know, you’re in a situation like this,” said Lt. Riley.
Their mission will begin as a search and rescue, using ATVs and boats to get where trucks and other standard vehicles can’t.
“People want to stay. They don’t want to leave. But they just don’t realize how fast the water rises. They think they are prepared. And then you come around and you’re finding them on roofs. And that’s when they’re desparate and they’re wanting to leave,” said Lt. Riley, who also deployed to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The officers will get their specific assignments in Orlando Tuesday. Once the search and rescue efforts are over, they’ll likely switch to law enforcement mode.
“We had officers around the clock working with the Texas game wardens and sheriffs deparmtents answering 911 calls and just basically keeping the peace in a chaotic area.”
While they’re prepared to spend the next 10 to 14 days in Florida, many will be thinking of their families at home after the storm hit many Midlands communities with high winds, heavy rain, and uprooted trees.
“There are a number of officers who left their homes this morning without power. Their houses, so they’ve left their family. We didn’t get as much damage of course, but they still, they’re leaving their homes basically unsecure, in their mind,” said Lt. Riley.
Lt. Riley said the adrenaline rush keeps them going, along with genuine passion for the often dangerous job.
“Toward the end of the trip, we’ll be a little tired and ready to get back. But we have a lot of good officers and we’re going to make a difference.”