Local hurricane volunteers shift focus from relief to recovery

Volunteers from across the area are helping people on the Atlantic coast recover from flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

More than a week has passed since Hurricane Matthew first devastated coastal communities along the southeast, but the East Tennessee chapter of the Red Cross says its work is far from over.

More than 3,200 hurricane victims stayed in Red Cross shelters over the weekend. Now, some East Tennessee volunteers are shifting their focus from relief to long-term recovery.

"We're going to start working on cleaning up, assessing how much damage, and making sure that rakes and clean up kits and bleach are sent out,” said Michelle Hankes, executive director of East Tennessee's Red Cross chapter.

Hankes has been deployed in Charleston, S.C. since the day after the hurricane hit.

She said her team has closed some shelters in the area, and is now focusing on longer term recovery involving individual case work, damage assessment and even mental health care.

"Really, the hard part after any disaster is the recovery. It's the cleanup. It's not as visible,” she said.

As relief efforts change, so does volunteer training. It's why the East Tennessee chapter held three sessions for volunteers to learn the ropes last week.

The Red Cross says those classes were well-attended, allowing it to deploy three more local volunteers to the east coast.

In total, more than 80 Tennessee volunteers have been deployed across the southeast.

The additional recruitment comes as death tolls continue to rise. On Saturday, North Carolina crews found two more bodies inside flooded cars -- bringing the state's death toll to at least 26.

"We are watching North Carolina and the terrible, sad things that we're hearing from them, knowing that flood waters are the most dangerous part of any storm,” Hankes said.

She said many volunteers in South Carolina are now on standby in case flooded rivers from the north roll in.

"We're watching very carefully, because we know that this water's coming from North Carolina. And we are being as ready as we possibly can so that if we are needed, we can act very quickly."

That could mean reopening shelters. As volunteers keep watch, she is urging East Tennesseans to show their own Volunteer spirit.

"These floods, these hurricanes happened halfway across the country, and it seems like it doesn't touch anyone in East Tennessee – but it does."

Red Cross officials say the best way to help is to donate monetarily. To donate $10, text the word "Matthew" to 90999. 

(© 2016 WBIR)


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