Minnesota emergency response team, Red Cross volunteers prepare to help in Florida

Updated: August 30, 2019 09:26 PM

As of Friday night, Hurricane Dorian officially became a Category 4 storm as it made its way toward Florida. On Friday, groups throughout the country, including in Minnesota, began preparing to respond to what could be a serious disaster during Labor Day weekend.

"We've been prepping for probably about a week now, just in case," said Sandy Peters, a Florida resident and Minnesota native.

Peters is heading to Florida on Saturday. Her father, Brian Anderson, who lives in Faribault, is concerned about his daughter and son-in-law.

"I'm very worried. I'm hoping that they get in their motor home and get out of there, before it hits," Anderson said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is sending people to Florida and nearby islands already affected by Hurricane Dorian. 

HURRICANE TRACKER: Dorian picks up steam, menaces Florida

Officials said 11 Red Cross regional volunteers in Minnesota are traveling to Florida to help.

"We also provide food for them so they have something to eat," Jason Bengston, Red Cross regional disaster officer, said. "We also have health professionals so individuals have someone to talk to, health professionals so if they need their medications replaced or other health support, we are there to help, and also spiritual care." 

Other Minnesotans are also heading to the hurricane zone. Teams from Burnsville-based Nechama Jewish Response to Disaster are preparing to help families. They've finished packing up one truckload of tools and supplies. Over the course of the next week, Nechama, which is Hebrew for "comfort," will assess how many more trucks need to be filled and driven down to the disaster zone.

"While we wait, we are preparing here," Nechama Executive Director David Kaplan said. "We are getting our gear ready. We are running maintenance on equipment."

Three Nechama staff members will head to Florida early next week. They'll work with local emergency management to do an initial assessment. If it's safe enough, a handful of temporary staff will join, and then volunteers. Nechama crews plan to help families with everything from roof tarping and taking down fallen trees to pumping water out of homes.

"It's really not just about doing the work but hearing the stories of the people who we are helping, understand what their lives have meant to them because you're going through their life," said Kaplan.

'A big deal': Florida braces for Hurricane Dorian

Gov. Walz on Friday also authorized a team of 13 Minnesota emergency management professionals to go to Florida. The state has requested several Type III All-Hazard Incident Management Teams from around the country to help with response and recovery efforts.

"Minnesotans take pride in helping our neighbors in need, and it's my honor to answer Florida's call for assistance," Walz said in a release. "My thoughts are with the people of Florida as they work to mitigate the effects of Hurricane Dorian and keep their communities safe through the storm."

The Minnesota team is scheduled to be deployed from Sept. 1-15, and includes representatives from Cottage Grove Public Safety, Cross Lake Fire Department, Brainerd Fire Department, Anoka County Emergency Management, Itasca County Emergency Management, Hennepin County Emergency Management, Hennepin County Radio Board, Minnesota Department of Health, Allina and HealthEast.

Florida residents have been preparing for flash flooding and widespread power outages. Officials have warned residents to have seven days of food, water and medicine on hand.

As the storm approaches, a Red Cross disaster relief truck is ready to respond to areas hit the hardest.

This year alone, volunteers from Minnesota have responded to various states including Missouri and Kansas because of heavy flooding.

Additionally, Red Cross officials said those who would like to help can do so by making a financial contribution to aid efforts. Those interested can text "Dorian" to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Learn more about ways to help here.

While in Florida, Nechama plans to help low and middle income families, at-risk households and those without insurance. You can sign up to volunteer or make a cash donation here.

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