Trucks with emergency food, water and other supplies have been leaving Atlanta for Fort Bragg, N.C. most of the week to help the East Coast prepare for Hurricane Irene.
A logistics official for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Atlanta said Thursday that at least 150 supply trucks have traveled to Fort Bragg, a major staging ground for disaster relief, and another 150 will be making the trip by the end of the week.
From there, emergency supplies will be sent directly to parts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia affected by the storm.
“Twenty-four hours before landfall, we have everything in place and people are hunkered down, and we’re waiting on the states’ [needs],” said Kertz Hare, regional logistic chief for FEMA’s Region 4, which covers the Southeast.
The American Red Cross in Atlanta also is prepared to respond, with shelters already opening in some areas along the coast, spokesman Rubin Brown said.
Brown said the organization has already polled its 1,000 volunteers in Georgia to identify those who will be ready to go to disaster areas.
Irene is expected to come ashore Saturday in North Carolina with winds of around 115 mph. Forecasters predict it will proceed up the East Coast, dumping rain from Virginia to New York City before a much-weakened storm makes its way into New England.
North Carolina’s Outer Banks barrier island chain is expected to take the brunt of Irene’s first hit on Saturday.
Bettina Hutchings, FEMA spokeswoman in Atlanta, said the agency is working with state emergency management agencies to prepare for the worse.
“What we really need people to do is prepare themselves for what’s going to happen,” Hutchings said. That involves listening to alerts, evacuating areas and moving to shelters if needed.
The key to FEMA’s operation in Atlanta is the use of private truckers who bring supplies from around the country to a central location in metro Atlanta. The staging ground is Estes Express Line on Highway 42 in Ellenwood.
From there, 53-foot Estes trucks, which carry FEMA insignia in the windshield, transport the supplies to Fort Bragg. The trucks have transponders so FEMA can track their progress, Hare said.
Hare said a great deal has changed in how FEMA prepares for disasters since Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005. The federal government’s response was roundly criticized, especially after a levee broke in New Orleans, flooding up to 80 percent of the city and killing more than 1,800 people.
“This is just a big improvement since the Katrina event,” Hare said. “Since the birth of logistics within the [FEMA] organization, we’ve gotten in line with private sector standards, and we feel pretty confident about our response.”
In addition to 18,000 liters of water and ready meals, the trucks carry plastic sheeting, some cots and blankets.
Truck driver Michael Westbrook volunteered to help FEMA during a disaster three years ago but couldn’t because he became ill. This time around he said he jumped at the opportunity.
“I know people who’ve been affected by floods and hurricanes and this is a great opportunity to try to help out,” Westbrook said.
While he’s excited about helping out, Westbrook said he’s afraid of what he might see if Irene does extensive damage.
“I know something is going to happen, but I’d rather be able to see everybody walk away from this thing safely.”
This will be the third time Estes trucker Ralph Cochran has volunteered for a FEMA assignment.
“If your family was in need, you’d want people to help you,” Cochran said. “It’s just a good feeling to know you’re helping somebody.”
_ The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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