Nebraska's team of specialized rescue crews was set to arrive in North Carolina on Wednesday evening, but may be sent elsewhere as forecasts suggest Hurricane Florence may make landfall farther south.
The Urban Search and Rescue Nebraska Task Force 1 team was activated Monday night and left Lincoln on Tuesday morning before stopping to rest in Lexington, Kentucky, member Brad Thavenet said Wednesday morning.
"Everybody is traveling fine," said Thavenet, who himself is in Hawaii as part of federal preparations for storms moving through the Pacific Ocean.
The 44 members of Nebraska Task Force 1 will shelter in place upon their arrival in North Carolina's capital, Raleigh, Thavenet said.
They may be directed elsewhere, though, as forecasters expect the hurricane may make landfall later this week farther south, bringing northern Georgia into the storm's path.
The National Hurricane Center's best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.
Florence's winds Wednesday afternoon were down to 120 mph from a high of 140 mph, and the Category 4 storm fell to a Category 3, with a further slow weakening expected as the storm nears the coast. But authorities warned it will still be an extremely dangerous hurricane.
"Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?" said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Tropical storm-force winds extended 195 miles from Florence's center, and hurricane-force winds reached out 70 miles.
Eleven Lincoln Fire and Rescue personnel are among the Nebraska Task Force 1 contingent, which is also comprised of staff from fire departments in Omaha, Grand Island, Papillion and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The task force made back-to-back deployments last year in response to hurricanes in Houston and Florida.
The crews are entirely self-sufficient, and will have satellite phones to maintain communications even if the storm takes down power.
Also on the task force are two four-legged rescuers, search dogs who helped find trapped residents and their pets in previous deployments, Thavenet said.
The dogs, when not actively searching, have helped soothe people going through the stress and anxiety of a disaster, he said.
"Those search dogs almost become a comfort animal,” Thavenet said.