Family or friends may be struggling to put their lives back together after surviving the punch of Hurricane Irma. But resist the urge — for now — to drive down to help with cleanup, local emergency response officials said.
"Right now, it really is not safe to do all that travel in the affected areas," said Katherine Mac Aulay, executive director of the northeast Indiana chapter of the American Red Cross.
Power is off in a lot of areas, and there have been some reports of looting, Mac Aulay said. News reports also have mentioned downed power lines in many areas, which could represent an electrocution danger.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Monday morning the hurricane caused damage statewide, and it's still too dangerous for residents to go outside or return from evacuation, The Associated Press reported.
Even local Red Cross emergency response volunteers sent to help with Irma recovery were being held in Atlanta as of mid-day Monday, Mac Aulay said.
But with many families having retired parents or family members living in Florida, or owning a home or condominium there, some people will feel a need to get down there as quickly as possible to assess the situation or to begin cleanup and repair.
"The best advice is to seek information from the local government authorities in that community" where your family member or friend lives, said Bernie Beier, director of the Allen County Office of Homeland Security. Damage caused by Hurricane Irma varied significantly from county to county.
Local authorities may have travel restrictions in place in their area to prevent looting and to ensure only local residents are allowed back into their neighborhoods, Beier said.
Authorities also have to assess "hidden hazards," such as possible damage to bridges and other infrastructure and what dangers may lay under water in flooded areas or under debris, he said.
If you eventually go down to Florida, Beier recommends wearing hard-soled shoes, thick work gloves and a mask to protect against mold and ingesting anything contaminated, such as flood waters containing human waste, animal waste and vehicle fluids washed off roads. He also recommended bringing disinfectant, such as bleach, and cleaning supplies.
"Move slowly and only touch what you can see," he said.
In the short-term, the best way to help is to donate money to a reputable charitable organization providing food, water, clean-up kits and other aid in a disaster area, Beier said.
Mac Aulay recommends staying in touch with family or friends in Florida to find out when it is best to go down to help with cleaning, repair or other needs. Cellphone texting typically gets through to recipients more reliably than phone calls in emergency situations, Mac Aulay said, so she recommends communicating with your family or friends by text.
If a group is going down, she suggests taking food and water to the family member or friend you plan to help.
Helping to restore power
Kosciusko REMC will send one of its crews as part of a deployment of 30 Indiana electric cooperative crews to assist with Hurricane Irma recovery efforts in Georgia, a news release said. Kosciusko REMC expects the Indiana group to include about 60 line workers.
Former Fort Wayne residents the Miser family and others taking shelter in St. Michael Lutheran School in Fort Myers, Fla., are safe after Hurricane Irma passed through that city, mom Kati Miser said via text Monday evening. She said their power and internet service was out, and many trees had been downed and uprooted.
Kati Miser is principal at the school.