Hurricane Florence: Local Red Cross volunteers on standby

By J Swygart -

Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Friday morning.

Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Friday morning.

David Goldman | AP

LIMA — The American Red Cross is preparing for a large-scale relief effort across multiple states as Hurricane Florence continues its slow march along the East Coast.

More than 1,500 disaster workers from around the country — including more than four dozen from northwest Ohio — are in route to the region to help. The Red Cross is also deploying vehicles, equipment and relief supplies and will continue to do so until it is no longer safe to travel, according to agency spokespersons.

By Friday evening, at least four people were reported killed. More than 890,000 homes were without electricity — most of them in North Carolina. Officials from Duke Energy predicted between 1-3 million homes and businesses would lose power due to the hurricane, the Associated Press reported.

The potential severity of Hurricane Florence has kick-started local Red Cross chapters into full-fledged assistance mode.

Derek Stemen, executive director of the West Central Ohio chapter of the American Red Cross in Lima, on Friday said 50 volunteers from west-central Ohio have been deployed to support Red Cross disaster workers already on the ground along the East Coast. Stemen said 127 Red Cross shelters have already been set up in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia in anticipation of providing needed assistance to hurricane victims.

“Locally, we have multiple volunteers — as many as 80 to 100 people — who are on standby in Lima and Allen County,” Stemen said. “We have career volunteer positions that cover everything from shelter workers and mental health experts to people trained in response logistics.

“Right now it’s a little too early to tell the extent of the damage and what services may be needed, but once we’re notified of a specific type of volunteer that’s needed we have a pretty quick response,” said Stemen. “The average length of deployment for our people is around two weeks.

Rescues already underway

“We are coming to get you.”

That’s what the city of New Bern, N.C., tweeted after hundreds of people needed rescue from rising waters from the Neuse River. More than 60 people in Jacksonville, N.C., had to be moved to safety from a cinderblock motel that began to crumble in the hurricane, according to an Associated Press report Friday.

Sam Hodge owns a bar/party shop in Goldsboro, N.C., about 90 minutes inland from Wilmington and and hour west of the city of New Berne.

Hodge told The Lima News on Friday morning that the rain was “coming down sideways.” Hodge said some tree limbs had falled, “but it’s not too bad yet. Most people here still have (electrical) power.”

Hurricane Florence had slowed to nearly a standstill early Friday afternoon, moving at just 3 mph, the Associated Press said. But Hodge acknowledged the worst was likely yet to come.

“It’s still on its way here,” he said of the full impact of Florence’s arrival.

Hodge said he has closed his business and will leave it closed until the threat of severe weather has passed. “I really don’t want to encourage people to go out in this storm, so I shut things down for a little while,” he said.

He said most of the residents of Goldsboro are taking seriously the threat posed by Florence.

“Most people seem a little more stressed than normal,” he said. “The last hurricane to pass through was downplayed a little (by forecasters) and then it hit harder than expected. This time people seem over-prepared … thankfully,” Hodge said.

While Goldsboro had so far escaped the worst of Florence’s wrath, North Carolina officials say parts of the state could experience a once-in-a-millennia flood as Hurricane Florence dumps rain for days to come.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday that Florence is “wreaking havoc” and he’s concerned “whole communities” could be wiped away. He said parts of the state have seen storm surges as high as 10 feet, the Associated Press reported.

How you can help?

If residents in Allen and surrounding counties would like to lend support the Red Cross, Stemen said there are three principle ways to do so.

“First is financial support. Financial donations are always extremely important during any disaster, and it looks like this one (Florence) is going to be a big one,” said Stemen.

Local residents may help those affected by Hurricane Florence by visiting, by calling 800-RED CROSS or by texting the word FLORENCE to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Donors can designate their donation to Hurricane Florence relief efforts by choosing that option when donating on or on 800-RED CROSS. Agency officials said the best way to ensure donations will go to a specific disaster is to write the specific disaster name in the memo line of a check. We also recommend completing and mailing the donation form on with your check.

Stemen said another way in which area residents can pitch in is through the donation of blood. He said more than 1,500 units of blood that were scheduled to be donated in the areas affected by the hurricane need to be replaced. “We need others to step up,” said the local Red Cross director.

Appointments to donate blood can be made by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767).

The final way in which residents can lend a hand is by volunteering to become a Red Cross volunteer. All volunteers are trained locally, which Stemen said “does take a little time.”

While those new to the Red Cross may be unable to help the victims of Hurricane Florence, their skills could be put to use in future disaster situations, he said.
Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Friday morning. Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Friday morning. David Goldman | AP

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