Julie and Butch Bauer of Fort Wayne are used to volunteering in tough conditions, so it wouldn't surprise the American Red Cross volunteers who just arrived in North Carolina if they're sent to Florida very soon.
Hurricane Michael – the latest in a series of destructive storms that started with Hurricane Harvey in Texas last year – made landfall Wednesday afternoon with 155 mph winds on the Florida Panhandle. It is expected to strike with a Thor-like hammer in Georgia and the Carolinas as well.
Two local volunteers were sent to Tallahassee, Florida, for staging and four more will be sent to the area today or Friday, Katherine MacAulay, executive director of the American Red Cross Northeast Indiana, said Wednesday. The chapter's emergency response vehicle is also scheduled to be sent with a two-person crew, she added.
I&M has also responded to the call for help.
“About 300 I&M employees and contractors from across I&M's service territory are en route to the Florida Panhandle to help with restoration in anticipation of Hurricane Michael causing significant power outages. I&M's contingent is largely comprised of power line and forestry crews,” Tracy Warner, I&M spokesman, said in an email Wednesday.
“The I&M team traveled to the Decatur, Alabama, area Tuesday and anticipates meeting up with employees of Gulf Power early Thursday to deploy where needed,” Warner added.
Red Cross volunteers work in two-week shifts, MacAulay said. The chapter sent 24 volunteers when Florence hit North Carolina in mid-September. Seven volunteers remain there.
The Bauers arrived in Lumberton, North Carolina, about midnight Tuesday and spent Wednesday delivering food prepared at a central kitchen in Lumberton to residents still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
Many in this region are still without power, Julie Bauer said. Some still have their homes, but without power are not able to cook.
With schools still closed in the Lumberton area, children who would have been given federal school lunches would be without meals if the Red Cross were not there, Bauer said. Many schools served as shelters.
“There's lot of flooding, very large trees down. It's one of the poorest regions in the area, so they're trying to help people that can't eat,” Bauer said.
The Bauers are on standby, not knowing whether they'll be sent to Florida, Julie Bauer said. “We're expecting a lot of rain in Lumberton tonight and tomorrow. We're right in the path of it coming up the coast.”
“The operation from Florence was winding down a bit, but now they're saying (volunteers) should stay fixed because they don't know what the impact is going to be with Michael. We're all kind of sitting tight to see what the weather will bring,” she said.
Julie Bauer volunteered to help Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas and in September flew to California to work as a mental health counselor while wildfires raged in Reading, California. The Bauers have been Red Cross volunteers for several years.
“During this operation, Butch and I are driving an emergency response vehicle, basically to distribute food to shelters or you go up and down hard-hit areas and disburse meals out of a window,” she said. “We always have snacks or water. Sometimes they disburse bulk cleaning items like masks and bleach.”
It pays to stay fit in order to be a Red Cross volunteer. Bauer said you have to be able to carry or help carry 25 to 50 pounds, like big coolers called cambros.
MacAulay said the chapter has about 150 volunteers who are registered. Many volunteers are retired and the majority are over 50 years old.
“Other people work with their employer and take their time off. We still have the working volunteer as well,” MacAulay said. “Some of the volunteers we sent to Florence are now deploying for a second time.”
The local Red Cross takes financial donations but cannot take items like clothing or cleaning products because it costs too much to transport them, MacAuley said. Donating blood is crucial, she added.
Financial donations can be sent to the local Red Cross office at 1212 E. California Road, Fort Wayne, IN 46895, or by calling 1-800-733-2767. Donations can be made online at www.redcross.org. Texting 90999michael is an instant donation of $10, MacAuley said.
Donation centers for blood can be also be found online.