Michiana sending help toward Hurricane Irene

As Hurricane Irene bears down on the east coast, agencies across Michiana are stepping up to lend a hand.

The Red Cross of St. Joseph County may soon be sending their emergency response vehicle east when the storm hits.  They’re just waiting for word from their national headquarters before deploying the vehicle that mainly serves to distribute food to hard hit areas, up to 1,000 meals a day per vehicle.  But, volunteers are already heading towards the storm

"We've got three volunteers who are going out from South Bend either early this morning or tomorrow and we have volunteers who will be going out throughout the next two weeks from all over the area," explained Gena Robinson of the Red Cross.

Some local volunteers are already in North Carolina.  Hank Parakowski, an AM General employee, will fly to New York on Saturday.

"At this point, I expect a lot of people in shelters and I think that's where the bulk of my work is going to be going to," Parakowski explained.

Parakowski has a lot of experience with disaster scenes, he’s been deployed as a Red Cross volunteer at least a dozen times.

"I was out to floods in Iowa earlier in spring, I've been to Katrina, I've been to 9/11," he described.

Depending on the level of damage more volunteers will be called up, some of the office staff may go as well.  Most Michiana volunteers will be charged with handing out food and supplies in shelters as well as throughout neighborhoods in areas that may lose power.

The Red Cross isn’t the only local agency sending help.  East coast power companies have sent out a call for help from Indiana Michigan Power.

"We have a total of about 200 people, some of them are already gone, some of them are on the way, some of them will leave tomorrow," explained Marta Elliott, spokesperson for Indiana Michigan Power.

Workers with experience dealing with downed power lines and removing toppled trees will be headed towards Virginia.  Elliott says it’s very common for power companies to share resources during disaster situations.

"It only makes sense because what's happening to them this weekend could very well happen in the Midwest because of a blizzard one day or a tornado," Elliott explained.

The majority of the Indiana Michigan Power workers will head east on Saturday morning.  The Red Cross expects their emergency response vehicle to be called into service sometime next week and are waiting for more calls from volunteers in the coming days.

The Red Cross is always accepting donations and new volunteers wishing to aid in disasters, for more information visit their website at this link: www.stjoe-redcross.org/

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