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Hoosiers searching for flood survivors in South Carolina weeks after Florence

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Emergency workers from Indiana remained in the Carolinas to search for flood survivors more than two weeks after Florence made landfall. 

Members of Indiana Task Force 1 relocated from North to South Carolina to support search-and-rescue operations in communities near Myrtle Beach, the team told News 8.

“It’s just been a slow-moving disaster because all that water’s stacked up,” said Tom Neal, a program manager and safety officer from Indianapolis who had been on the ground for more than three weeks. 

Although local officials suggested flooding in the region was less severe than projected, rescue crews said they faced unexpected challenges stemming from delayed drainage, leaking hog waste and coal ash, mosquitoes, snakes and returning homeowners. 

“[Local residents] didn’t realize things could get worse after it stopped raining,” explained Neal. “Some of these people may have come back after the storm, and then the flood came… Some of these flood areas may not even go down until another week. Two weeks in some areas.”

His duties involve checking every residence and business in assigned communities on a “national grid” for people who remain accounted for. 

Support from hazardous materials specialists has kept the Hoosier volunteers safe while working in contaminated floodwaters. Other obstacles, however, have been unavoidable and unique to this disaster zone. 

“People have reported seeing alligators,” said Neal. “We’ve had reports of bear sightings. We’re trying to do what we can.”

South Carolinians who encountered the rescue crews have been overcome with gratitude for their life-saving work, he added.

“[When] we tell them that we’re part of [Urban] Search & Rescue, they’re like, ‘Oh! Thank you!’” Neal told News 8. “They’re just very complimentary [and] very thankful for us to be on the ground.”

Indiana Task Force 1 members could be in the Carolinas for another week while they wait for floodwaters – and related dangers – to recede, he said Monday.

Neal encouraged Hoosiers interested in supporting their operations to consider donating to the American Red Cross. 

Contributions can be made online through “Caring for the Carolinas,” a disaster relief initiative presented by WISH-TV in partnership with the Red Cross.