Salvation Army Prepared to Mobilize as Wilma Nears

Roaring with winds of up to 140 mph, Hurricane Wilma struck the Mexican mainland late Friday and is slowly battering across the Yucatan peninsula with no reports of deaths so far.

Tens of thousands of tourists remain in damp shelters listening to the shrieking winds as the now stalled storm is expected to hang over until at least Saturday night, creating a higher risk of damage.

Downgraded to a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale from a record-breaking Category 5 earlier this week, the storm dropped an unprecedented 23 inches of rain for Mexico on Friday on Isla Mujeres island.

At 8 p.m. EDT, Wilma was about 440 miles southwest of Key West, Fla., according to the Associated Press, and is predicted to reach hurricane-weary Florida on Monday.

"We really don't know what to expect," said Melissa Temme, public relations specialist for The Salvation Army, as the organization stands alert in the U.S.

Currently, The Salvation Army has 20 feeding campaigns "staged and ready to come in when the storm [passes] through the state," according to Temme.

The state emergency operations center is keeping a watch on Wilma as the Army prepares to serve 5,000 meals a day at each station. While forecasters expect the storm to weaken upon its arrival in Florida, the organization continues to stand by to move out its relief teams and large mobile kitchen, which has the capability of providing 20,000 meals a day, when the signal is given. Once Wilma plummets through Florida, the state will identify the hardest hit areas from which point The Salvation Army will mobilize its forces and move in.

"We will help people where there is need," said Temme.

Having worked with disasters for over a century, The Salvation Army is prepared to respondto the trail of devastation Wilma may leave behind, she added.

"We've worked with disasters for over 100 years," she said, pointing out their round-the-clock service of working 365 days a year. "So this has kind of become a refined process for us.

"We hope they understand that The Salvation Army has been efficient at serving these people ... because we have done it 365 days a year."

Mentioning the effects of Hurricane Katrina, Temme said, "One of the things people were most shocked by was the level of poverty that they saw by Katrina."

As rising poverty revealed itself through the eye-opening disaster, Temme hopes to see a continual flow of generosity from the American people for the hurt and the poor especially as Christmas rolls around.

"We know people will help us to help these people affected by the storms," she said.

The Salvation Army serves nearly 33 million Americans each year, providing food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless and opportunities for underprivileged children, according to the evangelical organization.

Temme expressed gratitude for the continual support received by the American public and faith communities.

"One thing we'd really love to express is 'thank you' for the generosity," she commented. "[We] hope they will continue to do so as we enter Christmas season and broaden our reach."