Knoxville area volunteers were among the many disaster relief workers awaiting deployment orders in Atlanta Friday as Hurricane Charley rampaged across Florida.
On Friday morning, the American Red Cross Knoxville Area Chapter dispatched to Atlanta its Emergency Response Vehicle along with eight disaster relief workers as part of the largest Red Cross mobilization since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They joined 80 to 90 other ERVs in the Atlanta staging area to wait-out the hurricane before traveling to Florida.
Being drafted for such missions comes with the job.
"They are actually disaster volunteers who are waiting for the call," said Chris Davis, spokesman for the Knoxville Red Cross Chapter. "We will call them up and say, 'if you're ready to go get ready, pack your bags and hit the road.'"
The volunteers arrived in Florida over the weekend to assist and aid areas devastated by Charley, which has been pegged by the National Weather Service as the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Hurricane Andrew plowed ashore more than a decade ago. The death toll continued to rise throughout the weekend as volunteers sifted through debris.
As of Sunday, 25 of Florida's 67 counties have been declared federal disaster areas. Nearly 20 people have died and estimates place the damage from the hurricane at more than $11 billion.
To meet the continuing demand, volunteers from an additional 13 Knoxville chapters were slated to depart for Florida Monday night.
"Trained volunteers are being activated to serve," said Lloyd Blackwell, disaster relief coordinator of the Tennessee Baptist Convention's Disaster Relief Units. Several dozen disaster volunteers, including those from two Knoxville churches, have been deployed to Florida as part of a statewide effort to mobilize disaster relief personel.
"A second team will go this week," Blackwell said.
The Knoxville Red Cross volunteers will be working out of their ERVs. Very similar in appearance to an ambulance, the ERV is capable of serving as a mobile feeding unit, a mobile office or a supply truck depending on the needs of the area in which it is operating.
The Knoxville ERV is currently operating in an area south of Tampa, where it is serving a multi-purpose role that includes serving meals and distributing to hurricane victims blankets, bottled water and other necessities such as work gloves and garbage bags, Davis said.
Meanwhile, the church volunteers are divided into specialized teams, Blackwell said. Units that make up the first response team include the State Disaster Feeding Unit, the Service and Delivery Refrigeration Unit, the Shower Trailer, the Communications and Command Unit, a Chain Saw Team and the First Baptist Church of White House Generator Unit.
Twenty shelters have been setup in 11 counties and are providing shelter for more than 2,000 individuals displaced by the disaster, according to the State of Florida State Emergency Response Team . More than 800,000 still remain without electricity.
More than 4,000 National Guard troops and more than 600 law enforcement officials have been deployed to disaster areas.