Published: Aug 27, 2011 4:32 AM EDT
Updated: Jun 27, 2012 9:37 PM EDT

NAPLES, Fla.– Hurricane Irene is headed toward the East Coast and the American Red Cross is mobilizing disaster workers and equipment along much of the eastern seaboard to help those in the path of this powerful storm.

Locally, Florida’s Southern Gulf Coast region is deploying two emergency response vehicles (ERVs) and five volunteers. Chris Goode and Chris Bronton from the Collier Chapter and Tom Lee and Richard Nye from the Lee Chapter will begin their drives to Maryland Friday morning. Lee volunteer Kathy Maloney will head to Washington D.C. to assist with financial statistical information. The ERV drivers plan to meet up near Jacksonville with additional ERVs from Red Cross chapters from Miami, Vero Beach and West Palm Beach.

Hurricane Irene is predicted to be the largest storm to hit the East Coast in more than 70 years, and could threaten several big population centers.A hurricane watch has been issued for the North Carolina coast and the Red Cross has opened shelters in the state as evacuation orders go into effect. In addition, more than 200 Red Cross mobile feeding vehicles are heading towards the coast to help people in the path of the storm.

"The Red Cross is moving volunteers, vehicles and supplies, getting ready for a response effort that spans nearly the entire East Coast," said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross. "While we're getting ready at the Red Cross, we want everyone in the storm's path to get ready as well by getting a disaster kit, making a family emergency plan, and listening to local officials regarding evacuations."

Dozens of shelters are being prepared all along the East Coast. People can find open Red Cross shelters by viewing an interactive Google map at www.redcross.org or by downloading the free Red Cross shelter app for their iPhone from the iTunes store. A mobile-friendly version of the Hurricane Safety Checklist is now available for smart phone users to download at www.redcross.org/mobile.

It’s important that those affected by the storm stay in contact with loved ones and the Red Cross Safe and Well website can help them do that. Safe and Well is a secure, easy-to-use online tool to help families connect in an emergency. People can register by visiting the Red Cross web site or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).   

A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions could be a threat within 48 hours. An upgrade to a hurricane warning will mean hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours. Those in the affected area should finish their storm preparations and evacuate if authorities ask them to do so.

Hurricane Irene has caused significant damage in the southern Bahamas and the Bahamas Red Cross is managing shelters and helping people displaced by the storm. A regional disaster management expert is headed to the Bahamas today to assist with disaster assessment and response. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Red Cross is mobilizing volunteers as flooding, damage to homes and impassable roads are left in the storm’s wake. The United Nations is reporting hundreds of homes have been damaged and it is difficult to communicate with many localities.

In addition, Irene could affect blood collections along the East Coast at a time when the nation’s blood supply is already low. The Red Cross is urging those who are eligible to give blood prior to the storm’s arrival. Donating blood now, before the storm, will help ensure blood is available in the aftermath of Irene should conditions prohibit people from traveling to blood collections.