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Red Cross Getting Ready to Respond to Hurricane Irene Up and Down the East Coast

With the first major hurricane of 2011 threatening the East Coast, the American Red Cross is preparing for a full disaster response, coordinating efforts with local, state and federal officials and community partners.

Hurricane Irene is now a category three hurricane with sustained winds of 115 mph and winds gusting up to 65 mph extending outward more than 200 miles from the center of the storm. Some tracks show the storm making landfall Saturday in North Carolina and continuing north around Long Island and into Massachusetts. Irene could result in strong winds, rain and rip currents from Florida to Maine.

Red Cross chapters all along the eastern seaboard are getting ready for the storm’s arrival. Preparations include finalizing plans for shelters, pre-positioning numerous emergency response vehicles and disaster supplies, and mobilizing disaster workers to parts of the country expected to see impact from this large storm.

In addition, Red Cross workers in countries in the Caribbean are already responding to Hurricane Irene. The Bahamas are in the path of the storm today and the Red Cross emergency operations center is activated and disaster supplies put in position. Flooding is forcing the evacuation of thousands in Puerto Rico and the Red Cross is supporting the government-run shelters there. Red Cross teams are also responding in the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s 5.8 magnitude earthquake temporarily preempted hurricane concerns as millions of people all over the eastern half of the country felt the ground shake. The Washington, D.C. metro area, less than a hundred miles from the quake’s epicenter in Mineral, VA, saw homes and buildings damaged and residents evacuated in the District, Virginia and Maryland.

Red Cross chapters in the area provided mass care to affected residents and emergency responders. A Maryland apartment building had to be condemned and the Red Cross provided shelter for 70 residents overnight. Several aftershocks have occurred since the afternoon earthquake and the Red Cross wants to remind people of earthquake safety steps they should follow.

Steps to Get Ready for Hurricane Irene

The Red Cross has several tools available with which people in potential hurricane evacuation areas should become familiar.

  • The Red Cross Safe and Well website enables people to let loved ones know what their situation is due to the hurricane.
    • People can also access on a smart phone, or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.
    • Facebook and Twitter status also can be updated through the Safe and Well site.
  • People should also download the free Red Cross shelter finder app in the Apple iTunes store.
  • The “S.O.S. by the American Red Cross” app is free on the Android Marketplace and provides real-time instructions including how to perform Hands-Only CPR and how to help someone who is choking.

A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions could threaten the area within 48 hours, with a hurricane warning meaning that hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours. Those in the affected area should finish their storm preparations and leave the area if authorities ask them to do so.

The Red Cross urges people to take steps as the storm approaches to help ensure their safety and the safety of their loved ones. They include:

  • Get a three-day supply of water ready for each person on hand, along with food that doesn’t require refrigeration, flashlights, a battery-operated radio and a first aid kit.
  • Plan routes to emergency shelters and register family members with special needs.
  • Make plans for pets.
  • Bring items inside that can be picked up by the wind.
  • Turn the refrigerator and freezer to the coldest settings and keep them closed as much as possible so food will last longer if the power goes out.
  • Turn off any propane tanks and unplug small appliances.
  • Fill their vehicle’s gas tank.
  • Close windows, doors and hurricane shutters. If hurricane shutters aren’t an option, close and board up windows and doors with plywood.

Blood Donations Needed

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.

Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental permission in some states), meet height and weight requirements (110 pounds or more, depending on their height), and who are generally in good health may be eligible to donate blood. To schedule an appointment, please call 1-800-RED CROSS or visit us online at

American Red Cross disaster preparedness starts long before a hurricane makes landfall, beginning with keeping supplies and equipment on stand-by all year to help people in need. On average, the Red Cross spends about $450 million on disaster relief every year.

If someone would like to support Red Cross disaster efforts, they can make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS, texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or sending contributions to their local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.