Locals respond to Dorian disaster

  • Cathy Lewis
  • Volunteers walk under the wind and rain from Hurricane Dorian through a flooded road as they work to rescue families near the Causarina bridge in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Tuesday. The storm’s punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters devastated thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii residents have responded to the call to assist those who may be affected by Hurricane Dorian, which ravaged the Bahamas and is bearing down on the South.

Sixteen Hawaii Red Cross volunteers have been deployed to help residents in the storm’s path between Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.

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South Kona resident Cathy Lewis is one of those.

A veteran volunteer with the organization, her first assignment was at the Kalapana lava flow followed by deployments to Saipan, Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands and Canada.

Tuesday evening Lewis was ready to render services in Jacksonville, Florida, where seven shelters are open.

“We help alleviate human suffering and help to get life back to normal,” Lewis said of the Red Cross mission.

The organization matches training and skill sets to assign volunteers from around the country to go where it is most needed.

Lewis is in charge of tracking volunteers in Jacksonville.

“I track where they are and where they will be staying,” Lewis said, noting the organization is concerned about volunteer safety as well as the safety of locals.

Parts of the city have been evacuated, which has filled shelters.

Of the volunteers, nine are from Oahu, five from the Big Island, one from Kauai, and one from Molokai. They’ll be tasked with mental health, spiritual care, sheltering, logistics, planning, and staffing.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the eastern coast of Florida was under a hurricane warning after the storm caused devastation to the Bahamas.

According to the National Hurricane Center, life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds are expected along portions of Florida’s east coast and coastal areas of Georgia, North and South Carolina regardless of the exact path of Dorian’s center.

In the Bahamas, it is believed more than 13,000 houses, or about 45% of all dwellings, have been damaged or destroyed by Dorian.

Because of Dorian’s unpredictable path, Lewis and other volunteers in the area were on a “wait and hold,” hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.

Balbi Brooks, of Waimea, was packing her bags Tuesday afternoon, ready to board a plane for North Carolina, not knowing what to expect.

“I’ll find out when I get there,” Brooks said.

When she lands in Raleigh–Durham International Airport today, officials will send her wherever she is most needed.

And she is ready to go. The Red Cross runs in her blood.

Several years ago, while going through boxes at her parent’s Honolulu home, she came across her mother’s Red Cross uniform from World War II. Unaware that her mother was a volunteer with the organization, she came to find out the different roles she undertook during the war.

“She rolled bandages, worked at Tripler and Queen’s writing letters home for injured soldiers, tracked planes and even talked to pilots who were on long missions to keep them awake,” Brooks said.

Like her mother before her, she is willing to do whatever is needed in the face of disaster.

The Red Cross is coordinating with partners to support evacuation centers, estimating more than 60,000 people in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas may need help.

In advance of Dorian, 110 emergency response vehicles, and 104 tractor-trailer loads full of relief supplies have been deployed with over 1,900 trained volunteers helping to support the relief effort.

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“We get a lot of thank yous,” Lewis said of helping with the organization. “That’s what keeps me going.”

The Red Cross is a nonprofit humanitarian organization which provides assistance to meet the immediate emergency needs of those affected by disasters. All Red Cross assistance to disaster victims is free. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it depends on public contributions to help others. To make a secure donation, go online at redcross.org/hawaii or call 739-8109.

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