Jacksonville-based disaster relief units head to Texas

News4Jax's phone bank with Red Cross raises $27K for disaster relief efforts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.The Salvation Army of Northeast Florida and U.S. Coast Guard are sending Jacksonville-based units to Texas to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

Coast Guard officials said it will send an aid-to-navigation unit and a cutter to help.

Aid-to-navigation units are used to repair damaged buoys or other machines or applications used for boats to safely navigate ports and other waterways. A cutter is a vessel used by the Coast Guard to provide on-the-water staging grounds and other platforms for response.

The Salvation Army will send its Jacksonville disaster canteen to Texas to support the response to Hurricane Harvey. The unit will be dispatched Tuesday and first travel to Pensacola, where the crew will receive its assigned location in Texas. The mobile kitchen is able to serve 1,500 meals per day. The unit was originally set to leave for Texas on Monday, but deteriorating road and weather conditions there forced the Salvation Army to delay the unit's departure.

“As we monitored the progress of Hurricane Harvey, we made preparations here in Jacksonville in anticipation of the potential deployment of our mission to provide food, water, and emotional and spiritual care,” said Maj. Rob Vincent, the Salvation Army's commander for Northeast Florida. “We are asking for your prayers for first responders and for those in the community who have been affected by this storm.”

News4Jax hosted a phone bank staffed by members of the Red Cross Monday from 5 to 7 p.m. The phone bank raised $27,177 to support disaster relief efforts.

Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers from all over the country are on the ground working around the clock to provide safe shelter and comfort to people impacted by Harvey. Locally, Red Cross emergency response vehicles are ready to go and more than a dozen volunteers across the North Florida region are already in Texas or Louisiana.

The Red Cross officials said the organization has enough shelter supplies in Texas to support 28,000 people and supplies for an additional 22,000 people are being sent in now.

"What they need right now is food," Vincent said. "The primary mission in disaster is mass feeding and emotional and spiritual care."

Tractor trailer loads of ready-to-eat meals, comfort kits, kitchen supplies and cleaning supplies are already on the ground in Texas. Nearly half of the organization's emergency response fleet -- more than 150 vehicles – has been mobilized.

"It will be one of those disasters that we will see volunteers not going out for days, but for months -- probably six to eight months -- for periods of time, and you'll see the Red Cross involved in this operation for years," said Christian Smith, with the American Red Cross.

News4Jax spoke with Red Cross volunteer Jimmy Balkcom, who said he’s headed to Houston for the next two weeks to pass out hot meals, clean up kits and clean water to those who have lost almost everything.

“Right from the beginning, when the situation came up, I sat there and watched everything on TV and every day I was telling my wife, “I want to go, I need to go,” Balkcom said. “Flood victims are a lot different than wind damage or whatever because these people lose everything -- everything in their homes.”

A 17-person team made up of members from the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast and the Public Works Department are heading to Naval Air Station Kingsville and Corpus Christi to evaluate facilities on base that may have received damage from Hurricane Harvey.

Gov. Rick Scott is also deploying help. By Monday night, he will have sent more than 120 officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission along with more than 70 boats and water vessels.

Nationally, the Salvation Army has already dispatched 42 mobile kitchens and two field kitchens to Texas. In addition to units already in Texas, mobile kitchens from Arkansas and Oklahoma have been sent to the region over the weekend. The Salvation Army is also preparing units in Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states to respond to potential flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

"What they need right now is food," Vincent said. "The primary mission in a disaster is mass feeding and emotional and spiritual care."

To donate to the relief efforts, visit SalvationArmy.org and RedCross.org.