RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - At least 1,600 Red Cross volunteers - and counting - are stationed across the south in anticipation of Hurricane Dorian, mainly in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. More than two-dozen of those volunteers are from Central Virginia.
Longtime Red Cross volunteer Debbie Watson is now stationed in Jacksonville, Florida, which is under a mandatory evacuation order.
Watson is a program leader for the Central Virginia Red Cross’s Disaster Action Team. She says residents in Jacksonville are collecting what they need to survive the next 48 hours and heading to emergency shelters to wait out the hurricane.
“It’s all waiting to see what this storm is going to do,” said Watson, who is on her fifth deployment with the Central Virginia Red Cross.
Watson says it’s her calling to help those who are facing disaster, as she now waits alongside them, as Dorian moves in.
“People are in shock and just need to be told they’re going to be okay, and that they’re not going to go through this by themselves,” she said.
Millions of people are making their way to emergency shelters, mostly schools built to withstand hurricane-force winds. Those operations are largely manned by the Red Cross.
“The evacuation shelter’s main purpose is to keep people safe and warm during the storm, and give them a place to go,” continued Watson.
Watson usually helps coordinate feeding people in shelters, but says she’s taken on many roles in the aftermath of disasters.
The Red Cross is also designating shelters that are pet-friendly and for people with special needs, hopefully encouraging more residents to follow evacuation orders and not stay at home - which could be life-threatening.
The Red Cross is also working on preparing long-term shelters, for those who may lose their homes because of Dorian.
“We actually have a warehouse full of all kinds of equipment...comfort items, cleanup supplies,” said A.J. Suero, a Red Cross organizer, stationed at the Red Cross’s regional headquarters in Orlando.
The Red Cross has more than 200 trucks loaded with supplies and emergency response vehicles for mobile feeding en-route to Florida, in addition to supplies already stocked in state.
Suero says the holiday weekend has posed some difficulty in planning the logistics, since many people in other parts of the country are away on vacation.
“So getting forklifts and some of the logistical items taken care of has been a challenge," said Suero.
But Red Cross volunteers are unyielding in their mission of help, as they’ve been for the last 138 years.
“It’s nice to be able to say to somebody, ‘You’re going to be okay,’” said Debbie.
The Red Cross volunteers will be taking shelter Monday night themselves. The Red Cross will also be sending help to the Bahamas.
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