Swift water rescue teams save hundreds from Matthew's floodwaters

Posted October 13, 2016 10:35 p.m. EDT

— Since Hurricane Matthew hit, crews have come by boat and by air to pull 2,300 North Carolina flood victims to safety.

In Rocky Mount, firefighters accounted for 472 water rescues, which included five dogs. A big factor that number were the swift water rescue teams, which were created out of a major emergency response change after Hurricane Floyd.

The rescuers came better organized, equipped and trained than they were during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Capt. Brett Skinner leads the Rocky Mount Swift Water Emergency Rescue Team, which didn’t exist during Floyd.

“When Floyd came, we were somewhat unprepared,” he said. “So now we’re a little better experienced at it.”

Rocky Mount now has 20 firefighters who volunteered for weeks of swift water training. Three boats and team members with specially designed dry suits were ready to deploy into dangerous high water conditions.

“We had a team in from Chapel Hill to assist us. We had high lift vehicles in from the National Guard. We had Humvees here from the National Guard, along with what we have, along with our people who are better trained and performed flawlessly,” Skinner said.

State Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said believes Hurricane Matthew could have been even more deadly than Floyd if not for the highly trained teams.

“They provide people that are actually in the teams and we’re able to shop them out and put them into the fight,” Sprayberry said.

Officials said the fight against Matthew’s floodwaters would be easier to win if more drivers used common sense.

“It’s such a simple thing. It’s such a simple concept; just don’t drive in the water,” Skinner said.

In addition to swift water rescue teams, emergency managers also point to flood mapping technology as part fo the hurricane preparation improvements.

During Hurricane Floyd, 52 people died in North Carolina. So far, 22 have died as a result of Hurricane Matthew.