Local Red Cross volunteers start relief work in Florida

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Buffalo-natives in Florida are waiting out Hurricane Matthew by enduring strong wind and rain, and massive power outages.

“Over here it seems perhaps a lack of power is what’s driving people to the shelters,” said Vicent Jacob, a Red Cross volunteer from Amherst.

Jacob arrived in Sarasota Florida on Thursday afternoon. He said the area, south of Tampa, was spared major damage. They spent time on Friday reducing the number of shelters from about five to one.

“They’re closing shelters around here, consolidating them into smaller ones because the need is not as great, and getting responders ready to be deployed tomorrow to the more needy areas,” said Jacob.

He told News 4 on Saturday he could head to Orlando or the West Palm area.

There are more than 1,800 Red Cross disaster workers on the ground or on their way to Florida.

Diane Sargent from Lockport is at headquarters in Tallahassee. She said the main priority right now is sheltering people.

“There are thousands of people who have evacuated and there are no hotels available anywhere,” said Sargent. “They’re coming all the way from the coast and are into Tallahassee, which is a four hour drive, so shelters are open all over the place.”

Sargent will head to Orlando on Saturday. She will work with the Red Cross for at least the next two weeks to assess damage, get food and water to communities as they clean up, and offer comfort to people up and down the state.

“What do you say to someone who’s lost everything? Or their neighborhood is gone, or their mom and dad’s house is gone, what do you say to them? You just be there,” said Sargent.

National Grid crews in Western New York are also on standby. A spokesperson told News 4 that all utility companies on the eastern half of the country are getting ready to send crews, if they are needed.

National Grid said it will likely pull crews from across New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, if help is requested.

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