By Los Angeles Region CEO, Jarrett Barrios
After spending the last two weeks in Houston and seeing first-hand the devastation and destruction caused by a direct hit from a Category 4 hurricane, I was hesitant to jump on a plane and head toward Florida— especially days ahead of what was looking to be an even bigger and stronger storm. But, having the image of the tens of thousands of people who had lost everything during Harvey still fresh in my mind was inspiring; and quite frankly, the only motivation I needed to stay on the road and continue to do what I could do to help.
It’s not pretty here in Miami the day after a hurricane. Driving around the streets, there are downed trees everywhere. And, at a community meeting I joined in Little Haiti, there were reports of great hunger and people without power trapped in high-rise buildings.
The Red Crossers I have met? Nothing but the height of professionalism and their great leadership on the ground is certainly going to make a difference. But, I can’t emphasize enough that our response will be a team effort and it will take time— particularly along the hard-hit Gulf Coast from Key West to Fort Myers.
In Florida alone, 6.3 million people were asked to evacuate and almost as many lost power. Even today, as Irma has well made her way out of Florida, the American Red Cross is responding across the entire Southeast. We are part of a huge team of partners working hand in hand to provide safe refuge and support to people forced from their homes and affected by this monster of a storm.
This storm was not huge, it was GIGANTIC. In fact, Red Cross relief efforts now extend well beyond the contiguous U.S. Our hearts have reached into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There, volunteers are working diligently to provide safe shelter, food, water, blankets, cots and hygiene supplies to anyone in need.
People caught in the path of a storm like Irma need to heed the advice of local officials, follow all evacuation orders, and above all, never return home until officials say it is safe to do so. Please listen to local media or radio for updates and remember, you can let friends and family know you are safe by accessing the American Red Cross Safe and Well website, at RedCross.org/safeandwell.
To everyone back home in L.A.: thank you all for your commitment to our mission, especially to the nearly 100 Los Angeles based Red Crossers now deployed throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S.V.I. And to the great people affected by both Harvey and Irma: I hope you all find a little comfort in knowing that the Red Cross will continue to be there to help, for as long as help is needed.
The Red Cross does great work and there are hundreds of thousands of people now depending on us to survive. If you are reading this and feel moved to help people affected by Hurricane Irma, you can do so by visiting redcross.org, calling 1- 800-RED CROSS, or texting the word IRMA to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
Jarrett Barrios is the Chief Executive Officer at the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region. But, above all, Jarrett Barrios is a humanitarian, with more than 20 years of experience helping those in need throughout the United States and Cuba.
To learn more about Jarrett Barrios or the America Red Cross Los Angeles Region, visit RedCrossLA.org