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West Virginians continue to assist in hurricane-ravaged Florida

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — There remain a number of Red Cross volunteers from West Virginia in Florida helping with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian that it two weeks ago.

“I can tell you the Red Cross is responding to thousands of calls every day for food and water and our local volunteers are down there helping meet that need,” American Red Cross of the Greater Shenandoah Valley Chapter Stacy McFarland told the Panhandle News Network.

McFarland said storm surge hit homes especially hard.

“They were hit by walls of water that were three people tall. If you do a flyover you say it looks fine but inside that home—it’s gone,” McFarland said.

Each morning before the Emergency Response Vehicles are loaded with food, volunteers check the vehicles for readiness – ensuring they are safe and able to fulfill the community’s needs. ( Photo/Terri Mehling, Community Volunteer Leader, Red Cross Greater Shenandoah Valley Chapter.)

More than 2,100 residents are staying in Red Cross shelters. Thousands of others have chosen to stay near or in their homes, McFarland said.

“Some people are choosing to stay in their homes even though they’re damaged to keep an eye on their current possessions so they are going to our local shelters for food, charge their phones, get water and then go back home,” McFarland said.

Five volunteers from the Greater Shenandoah Valley Chapter deployed ahead of the storm to set up shelters, or to deliver food to residents who can’t leave their communities. McFarland said one volunteer is running an emergency response vehicle out of Kitchen #4.

“She drives that vehicle up to that kitchen every day. They get loaded up with food and then go out to their designated areas,” McFarland said.

She said some families cannot even make it out to get basic supplies, either because they lost their vehicles or because the roads have been impassable.

The Greater Shenandoah Valley Chapter covers the greater Eastern Panhandle as well as Washington County MD and south into Virginia. Anyone interested in helping can start the process here.

McFarland said the application can be done within a day online.

McFarland said they anticipate being on the ground “for months” in the hard-hit areas Local volunteers deploy for two weeks at a time, although they can volunteer to stay longer.

According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Hurricane Ian had maximum sustained winds of 155 miles an hour when it slammed into Florida’s gulf coast September 28th and was just shy of a Category 5 storm. It was the strongest hurricane to hit Florida since Michael in 2018 and the first Category 4 hurricane to impact Southwest Florida since Charley in 2004.

Ian thrashed parts of Florida’s western coast, bringing intense winds, heavy rainfall, and catastrophic storm surges. A storm surge with inundation of an unprecedented 12 to 18 feet above ground level was reported along the southwestern Florida coast, and the city of Fort Myers itself was hit particularly hard with a 7.26 foot surge—a record high.

Before the storm, the Red Cross moved truckloads of additional cots, blankets and comfort kits, along with tens of thousands of relief supplies into the Florida area to be prepared to help.