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Rescue workers head to east coast

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FORT DIX, N.J. — While most people were fleeing the east coast in preparation for the landfall of Hurricane Sandy Monday, six Buck Creek Township fire department employees were heading straight toward it.

Three EMTs and three paramedics were deployed to Fort Dix, N.J., Sunday night to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency with response to what forecasters are calling “the perfect storm.”

The fire department’s call to aid potential victims of Sandy came at 10 p.m. Sunday. An hour later, three ambulances carrying the three two-man teams were on the road with a plan to drive all night to beat the storm’s landfall somewhere in the New Jersey vicinity.

The teams checked in Monday afternoon and are awaiting deployment in the field, which will likely come sometime today, said EMT Dave DeVore.

“Looks like it could be anywhere in the New York area, New Jersey area or Philadelphia,” DeVore said. “We’re right in the middle of everything.”

Buck Creek is under contract with FEMA to aid in disaster responses when called. This is the third time the department has been called upon; previous deployments included response to Hurricane Katrina in 2006 and Hurricane Gustav in 2008.

Fire Chief Dave Sutherlin said this is the biggest deployment of his department, so far.

“They’re right in the middle of it all,” Sutherlin said. “That’s where we need to be, where’s the most need and most impact.”

For both Katrina and Gustav, Buck Creek sent just one ambulance and two employees. The fact that FEMA requested three teams this year is telling, Sutherlin said.

“It’s been hyped up so big, it could be very, very bad,” he said. “They’re collecting a lot of resources, I know; it’s a tremendous amount of equipment.”

The three Buck Creek ambulances are part of nearly 400 that have been requested by FEMA from contracted organizations. DeVore said the Buck Creek teams will most likely be used for evacuation of the elderly in hard hit areas. Nursing home residents who require ventilation or other specialized care will be evacuated via ambulance.

DeVore said he doesn’t know how long the Buck Creek teams will be needed, but they could be there through the weekend.

“We’re here until they tell us to go home,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security is also working to mobilize response teams from across the country.

Sandy was expected to make landfall last night, hitting hardest an area populated by 50 million people.

By Monday afternoon, low-lying areas along the eastern seaboard were already experiencing flooding and power outages.

Rain and howling winds shuttered most of the nation’s largest city and sent a huge crane dangling precariously from a luxury high-rise Monday as Hurricane Sandy zeroed in on New York’s waterfront with a massive storm surge.

The threat of an 11-foot wall of water prompted officials to close the mass transit system and consider cutting power to Wall Street and all of lower Manhattan to avoid saltwater damage.

“The worst of it is about to hit,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said early Monday evening.

On coastal Long Island, floodwaters swamped cars, downed trees and put neighborhoods under water as beachfronts and fishing villages bore the brunt of the storm. A police car was lost rescuing 14 people from the popular resort Fire Island.

No deaths or injuries were reported, but the collapsed crane suspended over midtown caused the evacuation of hundreds from a posh hotel and other buildings. Inspectors were climbing 74 flights of stairs to examine it.

Meteorologists said the winds could have been close to 95 mph at the top of the $1.5 billion building when the crane tipped.

The city shut its subways, schools, stock exchanges, Broadway theaters and closed several bridges and tunnels throughout the day as the weather worsened. The airports stayed open, but major carriers cancelled all flights – about one-quarter of the nation’s air traffic.

Craig Fugate, chief of FEMA, said FEMA teams were deployed from North Carolina to Maine and as far inland as West Virginia, bringing generators and basic supplies that will be needed in the storm’s aftermath.

“I have not been around long enough to see a hurricane forecast with a snow advisory in it,” Fugate told NBC’s “Today” show.

Pennsylvania’s largest utilities brought in hundreds of line-repair and tree-trimming crews. In New Jersey, where utilities were widely criticized last year for slow responses after the remnants of storms Irene and Lee, authorities promised a better performance. Hundreds of homes and businesses were already without electricity early Monday.

The remnants of Sandy were expected to begin moving through the Midwest Monday evening. Though the storm is expected to lose much of its steam by the time it reaches central Indiana, there is still a wind advisory in effect from the National Weather Service. It went into place at 5 p.m. last night and will last through 8 p.m. this evening.

“The main threats will definitely be the winds,” said Meteorologist Marc Dahmer.

Dahmer said Central Indiana could see sustained winds upwards of 30 miles per hour and gusts from 40 mph to 50 mph.

Though the wind advisory was set to expire tonight, Dahmer said there is a still a possibility for gusting into Wednesday. Wind gusts could still reach 15 mph to 20 mph during trick-or-treating Wednesday night.

Dahmer said there is also a chance for Hancock County to see some slight rainfall from the so-called superstorm.

Though the effects are expected to be just a fraction of what is felt by the east  coast, Dahmer said it is rare for an Atlantic storm to reach this far inland.

“I haven’t seen it,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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