Coast Guard crews are busy at work as rescue missions continue following the devastation of. The powerful storm has brought catastrophic flooding, strong winds and storm surge to areas in Florida and was forecast to hit South Carolina on Friday.
"It's a challenging mission, but our crews are highly trained and well-equipped for this," Rear Admiral Brendan McPherson, who serves as commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District, told "CBS Mornings" on Friday. "I talked to a number of crew that did those missions yesterday and they faced devastating circumstances, you know, really unrecognizable terrain."
He said 16 U.S. Coast Guard aircraft conducted rescues in parts of the air where planes typically don't fly. The agency rescued around 95 people on Thursday and were at another day's work Friday searching for more people in need.
"They're going into areas where we can't get at it in any other way, not by boat or by land," McPherson said. "But I will say the Coast Guard is part of a unified approach to this. It's an all hands on deck effort."
Teams, he said, have "gridded out" impacted areas and are "methodically going from box to box clearing those areas to make sure people are safe."
"Think of a military operation," McPherson said.
Along with conducting air rescues, the Coast Guard is also working to reopen ports shuttered amidst the storm. McPherson said he expects the Tampa Bay port to be reopened as early as late Friday afternoon.
"We're here for the long haul," he said.
The commander said response efforts in Florida are "more than a mission." More than 4,000 residents who are in the Coast Guard have been impacted, he said, and more than 300 were in some of the hardest-hit areas.
Crews are also gearing up for what McPherson called "the second front of a war" as the powerful storm heads toward South Carolina.
He encouraged those impacted by the storm to call 911, and discouraged using social media to get in contact with first responders.
"We are part of this community and we're side by side with our neighbors," he said. "We will get through this and we will recover."