Central Illinois agencies are chipping in to assist relief efforts in Louisiana following Hurricane Ida.
Midwest Food Bank, American Red Cross, and Ameren Illinois will send resources to the region to help people impacted by the hurricane that produced widespread damage, flooding, and power outages.
Rollie Reed, operations manager for Midwest Food Bank’s Peoria Division, said its first shipments of food, water, hygiene kits, and cleaning supplies are on the way to the region.
“Presently, we have had two loads that have shipped out as of this morning,” said Reed. “There’s other loads in process now; when I mean loads, we’re building up over 1,000 family food boxes to a semi load that we’re sending down to around the New Orleans area.”
The nonprofit’s Normal and Morton divisions also are assembling disaster relief boxes this week. The agency coordinates with the Salvation Army to direct aid where it’s needed and partners with Somebody Cares to provide shipments of supplies such as bleach, gloves, and towels to assist clean-up efforts.
“We are ready to support the families impacted by Hurricane Ida,” Normal division executive director Tara Ingham said in a news release. “We are thankful for the faithful support of volunteers and generous donors making our disaster relief efforts possible.”
Lisa Martin, executive director of the Morton division, said one food box typically sustains a family of four over 4-5 days. She said assistance could continue for more than a month.
“Typically with a hurricane this size, we estimate it could be 12 to 15 loads in total, but we don’t know that 100% yet; that’s just initial assessments,” said Martin. “So, what we will do is kind of stand by and wait to hear from Salvation Army, when and how many loads each day and week. Then we will rally volunteers to come in and help us to build those loads to get them on the road.”
Reed said one problem they’re facing locally is a short supply of goods typically included in their family food boxes.
“Manufacturers and grocers and food distributors have not got the biggest variety of things available right now, so … it’s making a little bit challenging for us,” he said. “That’s why we’re looking for opportunities for food drives as well to get as much as we can. Unfortunately, that pulls it out of the market for other people. But at the same time, we want to be able to serve those in need down south.”
Meanwhile, utility crews from central Illinois will take a caravan to Louisiana to help restore power for hundreds of thousands of people following Hurricane Ida.
Ameren Illinois spokesperson Brian Bretsch said the utility plans to dispatch 300 workers from Illinois and Missouri for a two-week deployment to Baton Rouge.
“When a utility asks for something like that, (it) means that the devastation in a particular area is quite catastrophic,” said Bretsch, adding that Ameren is prepared to send a second crew in mid-September if needed.
Ameren estimates about 900,000 Louisiana residents are without power as of Tuesday.
Bretsch said the utility is answering a request for mutual aid from the utility company Entergy. He said finding volunteers for restoration trips like this is never a problem.
“It’s when we have a situation like Hurricane Ida that slammed Louisiana, volunteers pretty much pop up within the first hour or two after the storm has rolled through saying, ‘If you need me I will go,’” Bretsch said.
Ameren has sent mutual aid crews to help following several major weather disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017.
Drew Brown, regional communications manager for Peoria’s Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross, said more than 20 volunteers from Illinois region are heading to areas hit hard by the storm to lend assistance, including two who departed from Peoria on Sunday.
“For the American Red Cross, our work is just beginning. Right now, we’re focused on providing safe shelter, meals, and comfort for those impacted by Hurricane Ida, and that includes those in Louisiana and Mississippi,” said Brown.
More deployments may follow in the days and weeks to come as the amount damage becomes more apparent and the needs increase, said Drew, adding as of Monday night, about 1,500 people were staying at 38 Red Cross shelters across the Gulf states.
“More than a million people in the region are without power, and with temperatures hitting 90 degrees today,” she said. “A lot of homes and businesses are destroyed; cell phones, water, sewers are down in area. There’s a lot of damage down there, so there’s a lot of help to give and people are still in need.”