Manatee, Sarasota Red Cross volunteers ready to help Gulf Coast

Manatee, Sarasota prepared to send volunteers to Gulf Coast

nwilliams@bradenton.comAugust 28, 2012 

SARASOTA -- Hundreds of American Red Cross volunteers from the Manatee and Sarasota area are on call to be deployed to the northern Gulf Coast if needed in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaac.

The storm is expected to become a hurricane before reaching the northern Gulf Coast late Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

The volunteers are members of the Southwest Florida Chapter of the Red Cross, which serves Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, DeSoto, and Hardee counties. Headquarters for the chapter is located in Sarasota.

Staff at the Sarasota office did not have an official tally of how many volunteers from the chapter will be deployed.

"It's wait and see," said Megarie van Sickel, chief executive officer of the chapter.

Eighty volunteers from the chapter were activated last week to aid in response to possible storm damage. An additional 85 to 100 volunteers were deployed to the Southwest region from Red Cross locations across the nation in anticipation of storm damage.

And as Red Cross shelters in Manatee and Sarasota close, those volunteers may be shifted to serve other communities.

"They may be deployed to the Gulf Coast," said Janet McGuire, Tampa Bay regional communication officer. "Some people from Sarasota will go to help in the Gulf Coast."

McGuire said an estimated 500 volunteers were deployed to the Tampa Bay region from other states.

Seven years ago this week, roughly 500 volunteers from Manatee and Sarasota area were deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi to assist after Hurricane Katrina struck. If needed, local volunteers like Ira Lew of Bradenton are prepared to help again.

Lew has been volunteering in the Southwest Red Cross for four years and was among those at the chapter's disaster operations center in Sarasota on Monday preparing and stocking items. Lew and other volunteers on call are part of the Red Cross Disaster Service Human Response team. Those team members are trained to respond to disasters locally, regionally, state-wide and nation-wide. The volunteers will travel via Red Cross emergency vehicles or by airplane, which is paid for by the Red Cross using donated funds.

"Now that Isaac is leaving, we're redeploying to wherever Isaac is going," Van Sickel said.

Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams

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