(Photo: The Salvation Army USA)
Hurricane Irene carved a path of destruction from North Carolina to the eastern tip of Long Island, killing at least 18 people, leaving millions without power and a sense of lost hope and defeat.
Emergency officials say the recovery will be slow as damages from the widespread storm are already estimated at some $8 billion or more.
Irene continued to cause flooding, massive rainfall, and 50 mph winds along the Eastern Seaboard on Sunday.
The storm has caused unprecedented transit system closings for major cities, which will likely cause major problems for businesses on Monday morning and through the week.
In the midst of all of this bad news, residents along the East Coast and in other parts of the nation are already pulling together to bring relief to Irene’s victims.
Americans seem to flock to the aid of desperate people by fundraising, organizing, traveling to help clean up, administering whatever services are needed.
There are already immediate signs of people assembling together to get aid to the hundreds of thousands of emotionally wounded, thirsty, hungry and homeless caused by the havoc Hurricane Irene left in its wake.
While most area churches along the Eastern Seaboard were forced to cancel Sunday services due to the hurricane, some religious leaders are thinking outside the box.
The Lacey United Methodist Church in New Jersey opened its doors on Sunday as a shelter to residents, Police Chief William Nally said.
The local church, which is working with the Red Cross, has an occupancy capacity of about 200 but they have no intention of turning people away.
“We’re just going to do the best we can for people who have no place to go,” George Icenhower said. Those who plan to find shelter at the Lacey United Methodist Church should bring bedding and food.
“We have food but every little bit helps,” Chip Marshall said. “We’ll have plenty of water. I’m sure we’ll be able to fill up buckets with the rain.”
Meanwhile, scores of American Red Cross workers are leaving Mississippi today for the East Coast to help residents as Irene moves on.
Monday will mark the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastating destruction on the Gulf Coast. Now, as Hurricane Irene drowns the East Coast, it has been tagged as the most destructive storm that has hit the area in 20 years.
The Red Cross learned a lot of lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Since 2005, the Red Cross has put itself in a position to be able to feed more than 70,000 families. Now, Mississippi's Red Cross chapter is springing to action on the East Coast.
"We have a total of five Mississippi Red Cross chapters who are now either positioned in response to Hurricane Irene or they're on their way," Tamica Jeuitt of Red Cross told MSNBC.
Mississippians know all too well what the East Coast is facing.
"Think back to everything that happened to us during Katrina," said Greg Flynn, of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. "If the storm the size of Irene were in the Gulf of Mexico, we could see that same kind of damage that we did in 2005."
The Red Cross recruits more than 170 volunteers to work at its booth at the Minnesota State Fair, but now with Hurricane Irene, some of those volunteers have been deployed to the East Coast to help with relief efforts.
Tennesseans are also making preparations to help victims of Irene. Volunteer Abby Dunn is one volunteer who is bound for Rhode Island.
"My heart is always with the people. I want to give them the help that the Red Cross can give them, but I want to encourage them for what they're going through, and I want to help them with what is ahead of them," Dunn told News Channel Five.
Other organizations are also prepared to help. The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief has already packed 1,000 food boxes headed for the East Coast.
"Right now the Lord only knows where we'll go. I don't," says Executive Director Joe Dudney.
Dudney says as soon as they get word on where there are victims, the boxes will be loaded up and shipped out.
"Some of the places we'll send ten loads so we just go wherever the need is," he said.
Each box is packed to keep a family of four going for at least a few days.
The Nashville Electric Service has 50 employees already in Baltimore, Md., ready to help restore lost power.
For those remaining behind and looking for a way to help, the Red Cross says now is the time to donate blood, specifically blood platelets. Officials say giving early ensures the donations can get to storm victims when they need it.
The Red Cross in Hattiesburg, Miss., is sending emergency supplies to all areas along the Eastern Seaboard.
"We're working with our partners in other states in South Carolina, in North Carolina, to support them in anyway that we can.,” said one volunteer.
The chapter has already sent two emergency response vehicles to North Carolina. About 80 mobile feeding units and trucks with communication technology are being deployed to highly impacted areas.
Bill Bradley, who heads a Asheville, N.C.-based relief organization, fears the need could be great with Hurricane Irene.
“Lord help us,” he said. “I think it’s going to be worse than other recent hurricanes.”
Bradley and a team planned to head east this weekend to figure out where help is most needed in what he anticipates will be one of the largest responses in the organization’s 20-year history.
"We will go into the affected areas and figure out where the best place is to set up logistically. There are a lot of things we have to look at to be able to set up in an area and make it functional.”
Bradley and other Hearts With Hands officials were already busy this week coordinating with volunteers and emergency officials along with area churches, companies and other organizations willing donate supplies and their time.
Phillip Hughes, a longtime volunteer with the agency, drove a truck to Charlotte on Friday to pick up a load of donated canned goods.
“I just feel led to help people out,” said Hughes, 49, who owns a mobile home park. “You never know. One day it could be the other way around, and I might need the help.”
The Salvation Army’s Asheville-based mobile kitchen also is headed to the East Coast. The unit will prepare 1,500 to 2,000 meals a day in highly impacted areas, with a deployment expected to last up to two weeks, the agency said.
The National Humane Society wants East Coast residents to know they have set up an online Twitter feed at http://mobile.twitter.com/humanesociety.
The site includes up-to-date info on pet and animal assistance, including shelters that are available in areas affected by Irene.
The organization is also asking for additional food, blankets and, financial donations, and volunteers.
The Humane Society of Richmond County is holding a special in order to find homes for as many animals as possible.
“Animals get frightened during bad storms and they run away,” said Allison Sweatt, program coordinator.
“It never fails, every time we even have a bad thunderstorm, or fireworks, the pets come pouring in. I expect there will be more than we can handle following the bad weather from Irene.”
However, it is interesting that more than 358 million pets reside in 63 percent of American households. A Zogby International poll found that 61 percent of pet owners will not evacuate if they cannot bring their pets with them.
Carolyn MacInnes with Focus on the Family says finding volunteer opportunities after a disaster for the family is a good way to teach ourselves and our children compassion and stewardship.
“Sometimes, we all need a reminder that being an agent of change doesn't require a Superman costume, a Lone Ranger mask, or a Batmobile,” she said.
Remember this she said, “Out of the wreckage of my life, God provided purpose and healing. He opened doors and invited me to look beyond myself. I've seen firsthand the truth in these words: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
Here’s how you can help:
To Donate to the Red Cross
The Red Cross offers a number of different ways people can make financial donations. They include:
• Online – Just visit redcross.org
• By phone – Call 1-800-733-2767
• By text – Text Redcross to 90999 to donate $10, which will be charged to your cell phone account
• By mail – Send checks made out to the American Red Cross to P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.
To Donate to the Salvation Army
The Salvation Army also provides donors a number of ways to help:
• Online – salvationarmyusa.org
• By phone – 1-800-725-2769
• By text – Text the word Storm to 80888 to make a donation
• By mail – Send checks made out to The Salvation Army Disaster Relief, PO BOX 1959 Atlanta, GA 30301. Designate “2011 Hurricane Season” on all checks.
• The Lacey United Methodist Church is located at 203 Lacey Road in Forked River. For more information call (609) 693-5222.
(The Humane Society of the United States: visit humanesociety.org/prepare and http://mobile.twitter.com/humanesociety)
• Provides emergency medicine and supplies, accepts donations on its website. Phone: 1-800-486-4357.
• Accepts online donations. You can make a $10 donation by sending a text message with the word AID to 50555. Phone: 1-800-678-7255.
• Provides "Hurricane Preparation Packs" of medicine and medical supplies, is accepting donations on its website. Phone: 805-964-4767.
Food Bank for Greater New York:
• Food program locator to donate extra food and water you stocked up on in anticipation of Hurricane Irene.
• Responds to a variety of disasters including tornadoes, hurricanes, and flooding. Focuses on the immediate needs of homeowners to get them back into their homes. Check them out on Facebook.