By LINDA WOODLAND

FOR THE COURIER

As Hurricane Florence churns its way toward the Eastern seaboard, the local chapter of the American Red Cross is ready to do its part.

Steve Mahler of Rawson will soon be deployed to Durham, North Carolina with a Red Cross disaster assessment team.

A volunteer from Morrow County is also being deployed, said Todd James, executive director of the American Red Cross North Central Ohio Chapter, which serves Crawford, Hancock, Hardin, Marion, Morrow, Seneca, Wyandot and Union counties.

“I anticipate we will have some volunteers going there soon, especially when we know where we’re needed,” James said, adding that the Red Cross will have operations set up throughout the storm-ravaged area.

Once there, the volunteers’ primary job will be to meet the immediate needs of people.

“In this case, sheltering, because folks had to leave their homes. They need a safe place to stay, and feeding, making sure they have access to hot meals,” James said.

James said the Red Cross works with community partners to achieve this. “No one organization can do it all,” he said.

He said the Red Cross may open shelters on its own or may provide support and expertise at shelters that have already been established.

“We may also provide them some of the materials they need, like cots, blankets and things like that,” he said.

The Red Cross also tries to make sure everybody has access to emergency medical care as well as counseling and disaster mental health care.

“So we’ll have specialists on the ground there to help connect them with local resources,” he said.

Disaster assessment is also a big part of what volunteers do.

“In the immediate aftermath, we will be going there and assessing the situation so we know what needs to be done for recovery,” James said.

And once people can begin getting back to their homes, James said, Red Cross volunteers will be providing supplies needed for cleanup, such as brooms, cleanup kits, mops, gloves and masks.

“Our mobile vehicles will be in the area distributing food and meals while the families are going home to start the cleanup process,” he said.

Caseworkers will then go into storm-damaged areas to help connect residents with local, state and federal resources that can help them through the disaster.

James said he has personally helped recovery efforts in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“When I go, I’m going because it’s what I want to do. I’m not ordered to go. I’m going of my own choice,” James said.

And when he does go, the toughest part for him is when there are casualties, he said.

“And knowing the long road to recovery these families have to go through when they’ve lost everything, when they’ve lost their homes and their livelihoods.”

James said another factor that weighs heavily on volunteers is wishing they could do more to help.

“And leaving is tough. You’re there and you’re invested and you make amazing friends in a short period of time. You become invested in the community you are in,” James said.

“When your time is up and it’s time to move on, that can be very hard sometimes. But you’ve got to get home to your family and your job. I stay very connected when I’m on a disaster, to the process and the relief effort. Even when I’m home, I stay in touch and follow what’s going on.”

Weather forecasters are predicting a potential for catastrophic inland flooding from the storm that is packing winds of 115 mph and enough moisture to dump feet of rain.

“There is no good disaster, but I think flooding is one of the worst because the cleanup is just such a hard process,” James said.

The massive flooding from such storms is often more damaging than the storm itself, James said.

“I’ve walked through tornado debris, I’ve walked through fire (damage), I’ve walked through mudslides and I’ve walked through floods. I think in some ways, flooding is the absolute worst,” he said.

James said he is already receiving calls from people who are asking what they can do to help the more than 10 million people in the crosshairs of the storm.

He said there are three things that can be done to help:

“Number one is a monetary donation. That’s what allows us to do what we do, to purchase the food and water and the supplies we need for these folks and to get our volunteers there.”

James said with the Red Cross being so big and because of the partnerships the agency has, the Red Cross can take those dollars and put them to work to help people going through a disaster.

The second thing is to donate blood.

“We provide nearly 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply,” he said, noting that the area about to be hit by the hurricane will be canceling hundreds of blood drives.

“But that blood is still needed, in that area and across the country,” James said.

Volunteering is the third action that can help those affected by the storm.

“All the work the Red Cross does, 98 percent of our workforce, or more, are volunteers. We need volunteers who are willing to drop everything and travel across the country. We also need volunteers who can give a few hours a week or a month right here at home.”

He said the Red Cross needs volunteers who can be available when a home catches fire.

“Single-family home fires are the number one disaster we respond to. So while some of our people are down in the Carolinas helping, we still have to be ready to respond and help everybody back here in need.”

For more information, call 1-800-red-cross or visit www.redcross.org.

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