With Texas still reeling from the blow dealt by Hurricane Harvey, America got the experience of a one-two punch when Florida faced the wrath of another epic storm, Irma. And like Harvey – and Katrina, Agnes, Andrew and Hugo – it’s one that is bound to leave a scar for years to come.
Even as the storm loses a bit of strength (though it’s still formidable) and menaces Florida’s northern neighbors, there is plenty of devastation left in its wake.
Irma first made landfall in the Florida Keys Sunday morning as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing 130 mph winds and a storm surge of 10 feet. It was the first Category 4 landfall in Florida since 2004. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the storm left "devastation" in the Keys. He warned residents who had evacuated ahead of the storm not to return until they were told to do so. He cited lack of power, clean water and all municipal services – as well as widespread destruction and a lack of safe shelter. Emergency workers also worry that a massive return could cause more traffic jams and gas shortages and hinder relief and cleanup efforts.
All areas of Florida felt Irma’s wrath, but some were more profoundly affected than others. CNN noted that Jacksonville, the largest city geographically in the country, grappled with a record storm surge and immense flooding. The city's Memorial Park has turned into an unrecognizable lake, and many roads were underwater.
Multiple sports destinations were affected by the storm – and likely will need to cancel or reschedule events that were supposed to be hosted in various areas of the Sunshine State. At the moment, however, more pressing concerns face residents and officials. More than 6.7 million electric customers are without power in Florida, according to Floridadisaster.org. FEMA chief Brock Long has said some places won't have electricity for weeks.
And as always, the outside community wants to help its affected neighbors. Here are some ways:
GlobalGiving distributes Irma donations to vetted local groups, as well as bigger organizations.
The American Red Cross is accepting money for food, shelter and "emotional support" for Irma victims.
GoFundMe, the crowdfunding site, gives people the opportunity to either raise funds or donate to hurricane relief efforts.
The Salvation Army is providing thousands of meals throughout the state and says the best way to help is with a monetary donation.
Save the Children is mobilizing teams and supplies with a focus on the needs of children and babies. Donors can text IRMA to 20222 to give $10 to the organization's Irma relief fund.
The ASPCA continues to move animals out of affected areas and find shelter for pets left behind or separated from their owners in the chaos of the storm.
The Humane Society of the United States also has ‘boots on the ground’ in areas hit by Irma, and is working to move animals out of harm’s way.
Please note that the Better Business Bureau has advised caution when donating to upstart charities. So-called storm chasers looking to capitalize on the disaster may launch crowdfunding appeals, according to the BBB. Those who see a suspicious campaign can now report it to the BBB Scam Tracker.
Facebook Safety Check: Facebook has brought its Safety Check feature back online so that those affected can give status updates for family and friends in outlying areas. Details about this feature are available here.
Airbnb has launched a portal so that the people who have been displaced by the hurricane can find a place to stay. It’s also waiving fees for people affected by the disaster. More details are available on the Airbnb website here.
Blood Donation: While out-of-the-area donations of blood through the Red Cross and various hospitals generally do not go directly to areas affected by the hurricane, blood donation is always appreciated and is always welcome and always needed. To find a Red Cross blood drive near you, go here.
Material Donations (Goods and Services): While many wish to directly donate clothing, cans of food, business services and more, disaster relief workers say those efforts are not what is needed at this time. NPR cautions that before donating, individuals should take the advice of Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
"This is not the time to be donating products or even services," he says. "That's frequently the urge, and most often that is the wrong thing to do. ...With the floods blocking off streets, when warehouses are not available, there's no place for these products — there's no place to store anything, there's no place to distribute anything. And that's going to be the case for some time." (And with many of Florida’s major airports closed, there are few ways to move material donations across the country.)
This article about items good-intentioned people donated unnecessarily (stuffed animals, half-used items from medicine cabinets, dilapidated shoes and even formal clothing) reinforces this message.
Instead, Ottenhof says, people should give money to groups they trust, and that have the ability to provide aid where it's needed most.