SWFL Urban Search and Rescue team returns home

Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
FILE – In this Oct. 12, 2018, file photo, Joy Hutchinson, left, is comforted by her daughter Jessica Hutchinson, as she returns to find her home swept away from hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla. It was once argued that the trees would help save Florida’s Panhandle from the fury of a hurricane, as the acres of forests in the region would provide a natural barrier to savage winds that accompany the deadly storms. It’s part of the reason that tighter building codes, mandatory in places such as South Florida, were not put in place for most of this region until just 11 years ago. And it may be a painful lesson for area residents now that Hurricane Michael has ravaged the region (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

People have described the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle as complete devastation.

The Southwest Florida Urban Search and Rescue team returned home Friday from a week of helping with the recovery.

They worked above and beyond and worked 16 to 18 hour days with maybe two hour sleeps. Some nights, no sleep,” Team Leader Shane Sibert said.

The team is comprised of tactical rescue specialist from around Southwest Florida.

Sibert said what they say in the Panhandle will stay with them for years to come.

Utter devastation,” Sibert said. “I mean, you see a beach house sitting on the beach; and a block away, it’s still intact, but it’s floated down the road.

Sibert said the category 4 storm inflicted the worst damage he’s seen since Hurricane Andrew hit Miami Dade 26 years ago.

For Task Force 6, it was a chance to return the favor for their fellow first responders.

“We had these teams, all of our brothers and sisters,” Sibert said. “They were here for us during Irma, so now we have the opportunity to give back to them.

Sibert said the team’s work ranged from rescues to recovering bodies of the storm’s casualties, and even sometimes consoling the community.

“A lot of times, we were on the side of the street, and people just needed hugs,” Sibert said. “I can’t tell you how many hugs I gave.”

The School District of Lee County is also helping the victims of the storm. Several boxes of donations from students, teachers and staff will soon be on their way to the Panhandle.Schools had collection boxes set up for the whole week.

After days of grueling work in the heart of Michael’s devastation, Urban Search and Rescue’s Task Force 6 were home. Although the road to recovery for the panhandle will be long, Sibert said Task Force 6 stands ready to help.

“To be honest, this team, this team is ready to go again,” Sibert said.


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