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Red Cross volunteers from Mass. head to Florida for disaster relief

People walked on a flooded street at a trailer park following Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Fla. on Thursday.Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg

Twenty Red Cross volunteers from Massachusetts flew to Florida this week to assist with Hurricane Ian relief as the storm continues to devastate parts of the southeastern United States, the organization announced.

More volunteers from Massachusetts will likely be sent out in the coming days as officials evaluate the storm’s ferocity as it takes aim at the Carolinas, said Jeff Hall, communications manager for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts.

In total, about 7,000 volunteers from the disaster relief organization have been sent to Florida, Hall said. While each volunteer will spend at least two weeks in areas struck by the storm, it’s expected that relief teams will be in Florida for much longer.

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“Fort Myers really took a hard hit, so we expect to be working down there for a long time,” Hall said. “People aren’t going out this weekend — they’re going out for weeks to come.”

Hall likened the destruction brought by Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm, to a string of powerful natural disasters back in 2017. In a four-week period that year, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Hurricane Irma tore through the Florida Keys, and Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico.

“This is on that scale,” Hall said. “It’s a bad one.”

Volunteers from Massachusetts, who flew into Miami Thursday evening and Friday morning, will primarily be working in Red Cross shelters in the state that have more than 33,000 occupants, Hall said.

Volunteers also assist with mobile feeding, in which emergency trucks serve food to residents who have returned to their homes but lack electricity, food, and the ability to secure meals, Hall said. The trucks aim to serve residents at least twice a day.

Four emergency vehicles are on standby in Massachusetts and will likely be sent down early next week, Hall said.

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For those looking to help on the ground in Florida, it’s too probably late to receive the necessary training and be flown down, Hall said. But there are plenty of other crucial ways people can join in the effort, whether it be via financial donations to the organization for donating blood at a local clinic.

“Maintaining stable blood supply helps people here and other parts of the country due to natural disasters,” Hall said, encouraging people to sign up to volunteer for future efforts. “The next disaster is always around the corner.”

Though severe hurricanes are uncommon in the Northeast, other natural disasters — most notably snowstorms — occur frequently, the organization said. To be ready to jump into action, interested people should sign up to be volunteers sooner rather than later.

“Hurricanes are rare here in Massachusetts but winter storms, sadly, are not. With a few hours of training, you can help your neighbors be ready for whatever the weather brings,” said Holly Grant, CEO of the Red Cross of Massachusetts.