Volunteers prepare for Isaac response

Slow-moving hurricane is expected to cause widespread flooding as it moves inland

BY VICKI BARNES | August 28, 2012

As Hurricane Isaac reached the northern Gulf Coast Tuesday night, following nearly the same path that Hurricane Katrina followed seven years ago, volunteer organizations are better prepared to meet the needs of residents in Louisiana and Mississippi who are once again in the path of the storm.

Slow-moving Isaac made landfall as a Category 2 storm, but the predicted storm surges of six to 12 feet and heavy rain is expected to cause flooding. Members of the national Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) groups are coordinating their efforts and are preparing with their partners to move in after the storm hits and they are given the go ahead to begin helping.

VOAD organizers said they are already working in south Florida, especially in the Palm Beach area, to assess the damage and help those who were affected by the storm. They had expected more damage on the west coast with Isaac moving through the Gulf of Mexico, but winds reached around the state pushing up storm surge and damaging winds.

Kathy Broyard, chair of Florida’s VOAD chapter, said changes in plans had to be made, but they are now in place.

“There will be flooding in the Panhandle from the storm surge,” she aid, “but we found the east side of the state has more damage than the west. We are doing damage assessment there right now and we’re preparing to go into the Panhandle after the storm moves through.”

Twanda Lewis Senior Program Officer for the Louisiana VOAD, reports that the state Emergency Operations Center went into action early Monday and they are working together to make sure residents are alerted to the storms progress and that volunteers can get where they need to be when it is safe to do so. She said they are expecting to be in action on Thursday after landfall.

Currently, there are 13 American Red Cross shelters, three mega-shelters manned by various organizations and small shelters operated by some of the parishes, which are already open and serving clients. After the storm makes landfall, that number could change, based on need.

Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) said he has volunteers who are assembling in Alabama and Mississippi, “just waiting” for the call to move in. MDS has trained “early response teams” and other volunteers on alert in the area.

He noted that they will probably move first into the Plaquemines Parish where they helped rebuild houses after Katrina.

Jody Gettys, director of US Disaster Relief for Operation Blessings International, said her organization, like many others is just waiting for the “all clear” to move in and begin helping residents and other responders. Her volunteers are currently assembling about two hours north of New Orleans in Hattiesburg MS, close but at a safe distance from landfall.

She said they are prepared to serve up to 2000 meals a day and will provide things such as tarps to cover roofs and a shower trailer for those who need to wash up.

“We’ll be there to provide whatever we can to those in need,” she said. “That’s what our volunteers do.”

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