Specialized rescue teams ready for Irene's flooding

Posted August 25, 2011 7:10 p.m. EDT

— Hurricane Irene could inundate coastal communities with rain and turn roads into rivers, trapping people in their homes and cars.

Highly-trained swift-water rescue teams are on alert across North Carolina to help pluck people from floodwaters, if needed.

Forty such teams are based in 32 counties statewide, including several in Wake, Durham, Orange, Chatham and Johnston counties. The Charlotte area also has more than a dozen people trained in helicopter rescues.

The Apex Fire Department has about 25 swift-water technicians and 20 divers, and they spent Thursday on Harris Lake in southwestern Wake County checking their equipment and preparing to deploy to the coast in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

The team has specialized boats that can travel in 6 inches of water or avoid submerged debris by using a propeller-less motor.

"We're hopeful (the storm) doesn't do any damage, but that's what we train for. We look forward to use what we've practiced," said Mike Beasley, a battalion chief with the Apex Fire Department.

State Division of Emergency Management officials said they likely will start moving some of the teams in western North Carolina closer to the coast so they can deploy more quickly.