Retired UFA battalion chief dispatched to Carolinas for Florence response

Mike Ulibarri is an Operations Section Chief for FEMA Urban Search & Rescue from West Jordan. He was deployed to Columbia, South Carolina before the storm hit. Five days later, crews are battling major flooding. (Photo via national pool footage)

(KUTV) — In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, a West Jordan man is helping with rescue efforts as the flood waters continue to rise.

Mike Ulibarri is an Operations Section Chief for FEMA Urban Search & Rescue. He was deployed to Columbia, South Carolina before the storm hit. Five days later, crews are battling major flooding.

“We have probably about 5 feet of water that’s come in to different communities and we’re bringing people out, evacuating or rescuing in boats,” Ulibari said.

The retired Unified Fire Authority battalion chief has been responding to natural disasters since 1991. His first mission with FEMA was 9/11. He also helped in Texas after Hurricane Harvey hit last year.

“I’m at the command post as an Ops Chief making sure I get the resources and the assets out to handle those calls,” Ulibarri explained.

Ulibarri’s teams are spread across South Carolina, responding to the outlying counties that border North Carolina. The swift water rescue crews are busy saving people from raging water.

“One minute, you have a few inches of water in the road and the next time, it’s up to your headlights on your vehicle and you’re trying to find some high ground,” he said.

Even though the rain and wind have passed, Ulibarri said the flooding continues to worsen.

“The areas they’re doing evacuations and rescue in this morning and currently as we speak right now, there was no water in there yesterday and now they have at least 5 feet of water and it’s continuing to rise," he said. "Right now, what we’re seeing is similar to what we saw during Harvey, where the impact hits one area and as the water has to find its way back out to the ocean, then we’re seeing neighborhood after neighborhood begin to flood as it finds its pathway back down.”

Ulibarri said FEMA will continue to dispatch more rescue crews, and he plans to stay in place as long as he’s needed.

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