'Without hesitation': People are coming from around the country to help with Ida recovery efforts

"We definitely will be involved in a recovery effort that will go for months."


Hurricane Ida was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm overnight, but the region is just beginning to deal with the devastating effects of one of the strongest storms to ever hit the U.S.

As recovery efforts kicked off early Monday morning, volunteers from all over the country flocked to the Gulf Coast to lend a helping hand.

Over 34 members of Oklahoma's Task Force One – which is made up of members of numerous fire departments, including from Oklahoma City, Norman, Edmond, Yukon and Chickasha – headed down to Louisiana this weekend in anticipation of the storm.

The task force is specifically trained to deal with all kinds of natural disasters, including water rescues.

Video above: Residents stranded by Ida rescued by boat

"We hate that people are going through this," Battalion Chief Greg Merrell, a leader of the task force, said. "But when it does happen, we are well trained, and we know we are the people who can help them."

Oklahoma Gas and Electric (OG&E), a utility company based in Oklahoma City, also deployed more than 200 crew members to Louisiana to help with power restoration. They took more than 50 OG&E trucks with them.

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Most crews from Oklahoma plan on being in Louisiana for 14 days before returning home.

Nebraska's own Task Force One also arrived in Louisiana this weekend to aid in recovery efforts. Their team includes 40 firefighters and civilian members.

The Nebraska group focusing its manpower near St. Charles Parish.

They say search efforts will be ongoing all day Monday and Tuesday. According to task force leaders, crew members are going to go door to door looking for survivors.

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Right next door to Nebraska, twelve Iowans are headed to the Gulf Coast with the American Red Cross to help those hit hard by the dangerous Category 4 hurricane, which made landfall Sunday near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, with winds of 150 mph.

Josh Murray, regional communications director for the American Red Cross Nebraska-Iowa region, said four volunteers are already there and the remaining eight are on their way.

"They'll go down and they'll help with a variety of things from working in shelters to distributing food or relief supplies, to working in warehouses and helping with some mental health aspects or health services aspects as well," Murray said.

He said Hurricane Ida will leave people without power and potentially without homes for days or weeks as flooding intensifies. He anticipates major cleanup issues as roads fill with debris as well as problems with communication. But he said Iowa Red Cross volunteers are in it for the long haul.

"We definitely will be involved in a recovery effort that will go for months," Murray said. "With a storm like this, the volunteer themselves will be down there for a couple weeks. And then, if we need more, we'll switch in some new volunteers."

While the work is tough, Murray said the experience is impactful for everyone involved.

"They find that they get some stuff out of it too," he said in reference to the volunteers. "They get a feeling of appreciation that they've helped [and] that they've been there when someone needed them on maybe the worst day. We're providing food and shelter, but sometimes it's just that sense of hope and the emotional support that means just as much," he said.

American Red Cross volunteers from New England are also headed down south to help out. The organization has asked for 10 volunteers from every chapter around the country.

Sister station WPTZ caught up with one of the New England volunteers from Grafton, Vermont, who happened to also be driving down with a volunteer from Maine. The two will be focused on feeding people.

Deanna MacEachern, the Vermont volunteer, said she has taken part in similar volunteer efforts in the past, but she added she wasn't sure what to expect with this storm.

"I don't know what to expect. (Hurricane Ida) seems like it's going to be pretty bad, so I expect we'll be fairly busy. You never know. Every disaster is different," MacEachern said.

According to American Red Cross, volunteers will be deployed for two weeks at a time.

There's a chance more volunteers could be called in, depending on the extent of the damages left behind.

In southwest Ohio, an emergency service response team has been deployed from Butler County, located right outside Cincinnati.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said the team deployed at 6 a.m. to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they will bring resources and help where it's needed. Their primary operation will be water rescue, Jones said.

The team will consist of 20 deputies, 19 of them ERS workers and one critical incident manager.

The sheriff's office equipment was also requested in the operation. It will bring eight vehicles with supplies, four boats, one command trailer and one ERS truck.

"Our training and service to the community reaches far beyond the borders of Butler County. If we are called up to assist other agencies in a time of crisis we will answer that call without hesitation," Jones said.

Hearst stations KOCO, KCCI, KETV, WLWT and WPTZ contributed to this report.