Virginia Red Cross volunteers on the front lines of Hurricane Ian relief

Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 6:25 PM EDT
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Over a dozen Virginia volunteers are prepared to stay weeks to help with recovery efforts in southwest Florida.

American Red Cross officials report over 10,000 people are housed in shelters across the state. The Category 4 storm wreaked havoc on parts of the Sunshine State on Wednesday, ripping homes to pieces and flooding streets.

“Here in central Florida, we’ve had flash flood warnings going off all night. Tornado warnings going off all night,” Bill Brent, executive director for the American Red Cross in Charlottesville, said.

Thousands are forced to stay another night in shelters. They’ll stay put until it’s safe for the next phase of recovery.

“We’ll start filtering out. We’ll do the damage assessments. That’s a long-term process,” Brent said. “It’ll probably take several weeks for something of this magnitude for damage assessments being completed for the entire state,” he said.

Brent is overseeing the needs of communities in Orlando, pointing hundreds of volunteers in the right direction.

He will be joined by volunteer Debbie Watson who takes the first flight out of Richmond International Airport Friday morning with a message in her heart.

“We’re the one little bit of light that they get because, for the first time, people are saying, ‘We’re here. You’re not going to be by yourself,” Watson said.

A long road to recovery lies ahead, and volunteers like Watson and Brent are devoted to seeing it through.

“They don’t know what they’re going to find. That’s the rough part. They don’t know what they’re coming home to,” Brent said.

The number of people needing shelter in southwest Florida will likely rise. 60 long-term Red Cross shelters are prepared to open in the next few days.

Thanks to donations, Brent said they are grateful to help in such a large capacity. You can support Hurricane Ian recovery efforts here.