ORLANDO, Fla. (WJHL) – After Hurricane Ian ripped through western Florida communities, the American Red Cross officials said they’re expecting another mass mobilization to respond to the disaster.
“Yesterday we had over 500 Red Cross workers on the ground in Florida, the overwhelming majority of those being volunteers,” said Heather Carbajal, the executive director of the American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee. “And that’s expected to grow immensely. We’re expecting to see around 2,500 Red Cross volunteers on the ground over the next week.”
Carbajal shared later that as of Thursday evening, roughly 730 trained Red Cross disaster workers were in affected areas of Florida. Before the storm had even made landfall, the organization mobilized 83 truckloads of essential supplies to help victims.
While the exact numbers of those impacted, displaced, injured or worse are still unconfirmed, Carbajal said the storm has already torn away normal life for many residents.
“It will be days before we know the full scope of the damage that Ian left behind – and the danger isn’t over,” Carbajal said. “Ian is still battering Florida with strong winds and heavy rains, and in the coming days the storm will threaten states as far north as Virginia with even more flooding.“
Carbajal said that as of Wednesday night, 33,000 people had sought refuge in about 260 evacuation shelters across Florida.
“We’re seeing a lot of devastation,” Carbajal said. “Seeing a lot of people whose lives changed very suddenly yesterday into last night. What that looks like in terms of the big picture we’re still trying to figure out.”
From her location in Orlando, Carbajal said her crew saw rain and wind intense enough to shut down operations overnight. The grounding of all outdoor operations was one of precaution, she said, but the situation is much more precarious closer to western shores.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who are seeing water damage or wind damage,” Carbajal said. “We’re seeing a lot of power outages.”
Carbajal said now that the eye of the storm has passed, crews can begin stabilization work. Once some conditions slowly improve, evacuation shelters will transition to emergency shelters that will offer other services.
“The next few days, we’ll really be transitioning from that evacuation shelter to helping families with longer term relief,” Carbajal said. “So making sure that people have a place, that they have food, that their immediate needs are met, they have medical and mental health support.
“This is going to be a traumatic event for a lot of families.”
To help offset the disaster’s impact, Carbajal said help will be desperately needed.
“This is the start of a really long disaster response operation,” Carbajal said. “And we are going to need a lot of support. The Red Cross relies on the generosity of our donors.”
That can be in the form of labor or money, and new volunteers can register online. If you aren’t able to physically go to the area, donations are the next best answer. Nexstar, News Channel 11’s parent company, has opened a donation portal to funnel funds their way.