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Task force traveling to Texas to help with hurricane

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Thirty-six Maryland Task Force One members are en route with rescue vehicles to Texas to aid residents along the Gulf of Mexico if Hurricane Dean makes landfall this week in the United States.

Most of Task Force One, which consists of Montgomery County's Fire and Rescue Service, left yesterday about 9 a.m., driving and riding in seven vehicles, including a tractor-trailer, passenger vehicles, pickup trucks and rescue-support vehicles.

Other members boarded airlines yesterday afternoon and evening to Texas airports nearest to sites that Dean, rated a dangerous Category 4 hurricane, is likely to hit.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has oversight on 28 Task Forces in the country, requested activation of Task Force One as Dean, traveling 18 mph, brought 145-mph winds and 20 inches of rain into Jamaica.

If Dean continues traveling at that speed and in a westerly direction, it could land again tonight near Cancun, Mexico. Meteorologists say the storm could strike farther north into Mexico and somewhere along the Texas coast tomorrow or Wednesday.

Because of that anticipated route, U.S. space officials have ordered the Space Shuttle Endeavour crew to prepare to return to Earth tomorrow in case Dean strikes near the Houston space station.

President Bush, vacationing on his ranch at Crawford, Texas, also helped prepare Saturday for a possible natural catastrophe by issuing a "pre-landfall emergency landfall declaration for Texas," which allows federal equipment and supplies to be moved in for relief.

An area rescue team also provided assistance last week in South America.

Members of the Virginia Task Force 1 International Urban Search and Rescue went to Lima, Peru, after a magnitude 8 earthquake hit 90 miles south of the capital, killing more than 500 people.

The task force is sponsored by the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and specializes in rescuing victims from collapsed structures after a natural or man-made catastrophic event. The members, three Fairfax firefighters, were sent by the U.S. Agency for International Development and will focus on communications, liaison missions and logistics.

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