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Maryland Volunteers Head To Caribbean Ahead Of Hurricane Irma

BALTIMORE (WJZ)-- Hurricane  Irma is the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic Basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in National Hurricane Center history.

It took a multitude of factors to line up perfectly for Irma to become the monster of a storm that it is.

"You need basically a warm ocean underneath it and the atmosphere around it to be very tranquil so it can continue to get stronger and organized, all that energy," says meteorologist Chris Strong of the National Weather Service.

While sea surface temperatures rose, the quiet atmosphere is hard to come by.

"There's a lot going on from different weather systems that are around and to have a stagnant atmosphere where the storm can really intensify and strengthen at the same time," Strong says.

"Without running over land, without running over things that would tear away at it from underneath and maintaining it over very warm ocean waters. That's hard for these three things to maintain themselves over a matter of days," he says.

Volunteers from Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore are on the ground in Haiti and the Dominican Republic ahead of Irma.

"People are spread very thin, and support is spread very thin," says Beth Carroll of Catholic Relief Services, who is coordinating the effort.

She says crews are stocking up supplies and helping residents brace for impact.

"If that means moving to higher ground, if that means getting up on their roof and nailing down some loose sheeting, if it means bringing their animals to a safe place, those messages are going out constantly right now," Carroll says.

Carroll and some other volunteers are in Port-Au-Prince but they'll soon head north, to Cap-Haitien, right into the path of an impending disaster.

Haiti was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew less than a year ago. Many of the victims are still rebuilding after losing everything.

"We are worried about flooding. It's very low-lying along the coastal areas, and also the shelter, the housing is in very, very poor state already. So the winds will cause extensive damage," Carroll says.

The key, she says: getting supplies into vulnerable communities before Irma renders them inaccessible.

Carroll says after the storm, Catholic Relief Services will need monetary donations and skilled volunteers to rebuild.

In Montgomery County, home of Maryland Task Force One, a specialized search and rescue team is also gearing up.

Members of the task force that was just in Houston are now back home in Maryland resting, but their bags are packed ready to go should the need arise once more.

"If they were to call us tonight, within six hours our personnel would be assembled here, ready to go, out the door, to support an event, be it Irma, or some other activity," said Montgomery County fire chief Scott Goldstein.

"Everyone has the right to be saved and they should be if they're in that situation," a member of he task force said. "We want to make a difference in those people's lives."

The team is one of 28 across the country called up by FEMA and paid with federal dollars.

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