65 Hawaii Red Cross volunteers ready to deploy for Irene relief on moment's notice

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Sixty-five volunteers with the Hawaii chapter of the American Red Cross are on standby to deploy within 24 hours, if needed, to assist in Hurricane Irene relief efforts.

The volunteers have packed their bags, put a hold on their mail, canceled appointments, and notified employers, family members and friends that they may fly out on a moment's notice.

As Hurricane Irene battered the East Coast, Lucille James, a registered nurse on Oahu, began mentally preparing for possible deployment.

"I'm just thinking how can I help them, what's the best thing for them, how do I get resources," she said.

The American Red Cross supported 150 shelters for some 13,000 affected residents Friday night, and was preparing to open dozens more. Officials say relief operations have been launched in more than a dozen coastal states, and thousands of trained disaster volunteers are assisting.

"We have tens of thousands of pre-packaged meals ready to go," Coralie Chun Matayoshi, Red Cross Hawaii chapter, said. "Our emergency response vehicles, there's 200 of them, which is two-thirds of our fleet. They're all pre-positioned on the East Coast as well."

Volunteers from Hawaii could help with sheltering, feeding, damage assessment, and providing medical and mental health services.

"You know you're going to be there in not so good conditions either," Matayoshi said. "But they're troopers. They want to go."

"Knowing that you have a home to go back to when these people don't have a home, I think that makes a big difference," James said.

James has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2005, and is a veteran when it comes to disaster response.

"I can't be sad when I'm working," she said. "I am afterwards, but when I'm working -- and I think all nurses and doctors are like that -- you're so focused on helping the person."

The Red Cross has about 800 chapters across the US that aid each other in times of emergencies.

"We pull together because you know that even if there's a Red Cross there, they're victims, too," Matayoshi said.

Matayoshi says another 20 volunteers from Hawaii would be ready to deploy over the next few weeks, if needed.

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