As cleanup efforts begin in Southwest Florida following Hurricane Ian's devastation, Red Cross volunteers have begun to assist with recovery efforts.
Josett Valdez, regional chief executive officer for the American Red Cross of South Florida, said as they started to learn about the formation of system in the Caribbean, the Red Cross began allocating resources.
"As we watched the weather reports, we noticed the storm was picking up," Valdez said. "We soon began what we would call our response activities."
Those include activating and moving volunteers into locations; setting up headquarters as needed in safe places; and making sure they had enough supplies.
Valdez said they partnered with county officials and the state.
"We really worked on identifying potential flood zones or impact zones," Valdez said. "Resources that we had over on the west coast side of the state, so in Collier and Lee Counties, included shelter trailers, Red Cross vehicles, and personnel."
Personnel were given the option to evacuate, Valdez said.
"And then we had people standing outside and ready to go to go in," Valdez said.
The Red Cross has more than 500 trained volunteers on ground across the state. Valdez said they had between 65 and 70 volunteers in South Florida as of Thursday morning.
The South Florida region encompasses 13 counties, from Lee County to Miami-Dade County and from Monroe County to Indian River County on the east coast.
"As the storm happened, we were in regular communication with our emergency operations center in Lee and in Collier," Valdez said. "We do have Red Cross personnel in those emergency operations centers giving us regular updates."
Valdez said volunteers were out Thursday, surveying the land to determine whether it's safe to bring in support.
Anita Iriarte, spokesperson for the Lee County Sheriff's Office, told The News-Press hundreds could be missing. At least 13 people were reported dead Thursday in counties across the state, a number that's expected to rise.
Hurricane Ian is no stranger to Valdez.
She volunteered during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, as well as Texas' Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and has been with the Red Cross for a more than 20 years working disasters.
"I will tell you this might be one of the worst I've seen or responded to," Valdez said. "I don't know that I have been in a place of such potential destruction as what we're seeing."
Valdez said her biggest learning experience may be yet to come.
"I think one of the things that I really learned is how incredibly resilient Floridians are and how well prepared they are, which makes it easy for the Red Cross to do their job," Valdez said. "I think as we go through this response and what will be a recovery time for Lee and Collier [counties], we will learn a lot of lessons along the way."
Search for volunteers
Valdez said they're looking for thousands of Red Cross volunteers to assist with recovery in Florida.
Valdez added they have volunteers on standby waiting for airports to open.
"This will be a big and large operation and volunteers from across the country will come in," Valdez said.
Volunteers will stay as needed, she added.
"While we have volunteers coming from across the country, we will still have a need locally," Valdez said.
Valdez said the biggest way to support the Red Cross is through volunteering and through financial donation. Donations can be made by texting Ian to 90999.
Those interested in volunteering can register at redcross.org/volunteer.
Tomas Rodriguez is a Breaking/Live News Reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. You can reach Tomas at TRodriguez@gannett.com or 772-333-5501. Connect with him on Twitter @TomasFRoBeltran, Instagram @tomasfrobeltran and TikTok @tomasfrodriguez.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Hurricane Ian: Red Cross deploys volunteers; thousands needed