WASHINGTON – Nearly homeless, hot, and hungry, the thousands of hurricane victims in Brevard County, Fla., are just happy to have some fresh fruit and deli meat, said Salvation Army Capt. Julie Whiten.
“They’ve eaten a lot of Spam sandwiches,” said Whiten, who came from Annapolis to Brevard County Thursday to aid in the relief effort after hurricanes Charley and Frances.
Whiten said Floridians had only non-perishable food to eat before her crew arrived. They brought what they thought were three days worth of food, and were cleaned out by the next day.
Whiten is one of scores of relief and utility workers from Maryland who have come to Florida to help. They include workers from PEPCO, Baltimore Gas and Electric, the Red Cross, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, among others.
And with a third, and possibly more powerful, hurricane on the way, relief agencies are watching the weather to determine if they should evacuate their workers or send more.
Florida needed the extra help, said Capt. Chuck Whiten, Julie Whiten’s husband. After Hurricane Charley, Florida’s Salvation Army division sent 60 feeding units into 30 counties so when Hurricane Frances hit, they had exhausted their resources.
Florida now has 70 feeding units, 29 of them from out of state, and 475 staff and volunteers, said Florida Salvation Army spokesman Steve Dick. Help from other states has almost doubled its ability to serve people, he said.
States have also pitched in, said MEMA spokesman Ed McDonough. Through an agreement, 49 states and Washington, D.C., have agreed to offer each other aid should a disaster hit that one state could not handle alone. He noted that the Washington-area received assistance from other states after Hurricane Isabel hit last year.
McDonough said many states are generally leery of sending too many workers too soon, but with hurricanes in particular, states want to ensure they are out of its path before sending a large number of staff.
That is why many relief agencies waiting to see the path of looming Hurricane Ivan before deciding how to proceed, said Maj. Lon Kinley, the Salvation Army’s emergency disaster services director for Maryland and West Virginia.
Hurricanes Charley and Frances combined to make the largest natural disaster the Salvation Army has dealt with, Kinley said. “And if Ivan hits, all bets are off,” he said.
Every mobile feeding unit east of the Rocky Mountains has come to Florida, he said. Kinley expects to know what the Ivan relief plan will be by Sunday.
Meanwhile, everyone in Florida is pitching in to help, said Julie Whiten.
“It’s been great. People will come around and say, “What do you need?'” she said.
Volunteers have come to help serve food and run errands, Whiten said Friday as she served food in Palm Bay. She expected to serve 1,200 people Friday.
Whiten said 8 percent of the homes there are destroyed. None of the 800,000 homes in Brevard County have power, she said, and many do not have running water. The county is not expected to get power back until Sept. 18 — close to two weeks without electricity.
Whiten said the best way to help is to send money. Funds are much more useful than canned goods or cleaning supplies. The Salvation Army is well stocked, she said, and different counties have different needs. Donations can be made to local chapters of relief organizations like the Salvation Army, and are much appreciated, she said.
Besides money, Whiten said, the people in Brevard County would love a chance to cool off.
“They’re just hot, sweaty and ready to have some air conditioning,” she said.
-30- CNS 09-10-04