Nebraska Task Force One heads to Florida; Nebraska natives living in area brace for Hurricane Irma

A Nebraska group has been deployed to respond to Hurricane Irma.

The 80-member Nebraska Task Force One got on the road Thursday from Lincoln and is expected to arrive in Florida this weekend.

The team is headed to Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola.

Some members of the team also spent nearly two weeks in Texas assisting with rescues following Hurricane Harvey, said Battalion Chief Brad Thavenet of Lincoln Fire and Rescue, which coordinates the task force.

He said highways clogged with evacuees and gas shortages will be among challenges the task force will face in Florida.

The Nebraska task force has firefighters from the Lincoln, Omaha and Papillion Fire Departments as well as civilian members who are doctors, structural engineers and heavy-rigging specialists. The team also includes four canine search specialists and their trained dogs.

Local utility companies will lend a hand

Utility companies in the region are sending crews and equipment to Florida to support the anticipated need to restore power in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Lincoln Electric System is deploying staff and vehicles, according to a news release. Fourteen LES employees with nine vehicles will report to Tallahassee.

The utility said its crews will be joined by fellow Nebraska public power utilities Loup Power District and City of Grand Island Utilities to provide aid.

Line crews from Nebraska Public Power District are preparing to leave for the Tampa area, according to a press release.

Eighteen line technicians, two supervisors and a fleet technician, supported by 14 vehicles and equipment, will be heading there.

Omaha Public Power District has not ruled out sending crews, and will re-evaluate the possibility Monday based on the extent of the damage and the need in Florida, a spokeswoman said.

Omaha native and family head north to escape Irma

Kevin Deese, his wife and their five children spent Friday heading north to escape Hurricane Irma.

Deese, who grew up in Omaha and graduated from Bellevue West High, said the Deeses left their home in southeast Florida on Friday morning bound for Tallahassee, where they have family.

He said a friend who grew up in Florida mapped him a route that avoided Interstates, which have been clogged with evacuees. Deese said his family traveled back roads and didn’t run into many traffic problems.

He said he filled up portable tanks with gas for the trip. He said he’s glad he did because gas stations he passed were either out or had long lines.

Deese said some of his neighbors didn’t evacuate, either because they had no place to go or couldn’t afford the trip.

Iowa native is already preparing for cleanup

Iowa native Cathy Vanatta will be helping her Florida community clean up after the hurricane.

She is a purchasing supervisor for Lake County government in central Florida and on Sunday will report to work at the county’s emergency operations center.

Vanatta, who moved to Florida four years ago from Council Bluffs, said she will provide administrative help as the county clears roads, provides supplies for shelters and tackles other work in the wake of the storm.

She said her county is at one of the highest elevations in the state so should be safe from flooding.

College is closed for former Nebraskan

Emily Karges received an email from her Florida college Tuesday evening that made clear the storm was going to be serious: The campus is closing; evacuate and take your belongings.

Karges, who went to high school in Hastings, Nebraska, is a senior at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. She said her college will be closed at least through Thursday.

She packed her car Wednesday afternoon and headed to her brother’s house in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Highways along her 650-mile route were clogged with other evacuees. Sometimes she’d get up to 70 mph, but then would run into a traffic jam and just inch along.

“Traffic was ridiculous,” she said.

Omaha man’s family is safe in St. Thomas

An Omaha man had nervous moments as he awaited news about his mother and stepfather, who had traveled to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for a vacation.

Riley Wilson said the Lincoln couple left for St. Thomas more than a week ago on a trip they had planned for months. St. Thomas was hit hard by the storm.

He said he talked to his mother Wednesday before the storm was at its worst, but said his family didn’t hear from her again until Thursday morning.

Wilson said the couple are safe but running low on food and water.

His mom told him they might be stranded on St. Thomas for as long as a week.

With hotels full, Nebraska native sleeps in her car

Nebraska native Jaclyn Heupel is just looking for a place to stay.

She lives in Miami Beach, a few blocks from the beach, and on Wednesday she headed north with her boyfriend to escape the worst of the storm.

She lives in a ground-floor apartment, so she put all her belongings on tables or high in closets, hoping to protect them if her place gets flooded by the hurricane.

Heupel couldn’t find any hotel rooms open after she left the area, so spent the night in the car.

She found a room open Thursday night in a town in northwest Florida, but was told that the motel was otherwise booked.

Heupel, who moved away from Omaha when she was about 10, said she’s hoping to find a motel with open rooms. If not, she might look for a community shelter.

“It’s tough not knowing,’’ said Heupel, who has been living in Florida for two years.

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