Hoosiers head south to help with Irma relief

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.— Hurricane Irma captured the nation’s attention when she hit. Now, the focus is on recovery. Thousands of Floridians are just starting to return after mass evacuations, and are being welcomed home by power outages, widespread damage and uncertain infrastructure.

Local crews from Duke Energy and Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) deployed to Florida to help with power restoration, as millions of Floridians remain off the grid. Some left on Sunday to Birmingham, Alabama and arrived Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Local Cleanup Efforts:
Indiana Task Force 1 (INTF-1) first deployed to Texas to assist with the cleanup from Hurricane Harvey, but was quickly redeployed to assist with efforts in Florida.

Cpt. Mike Pruitt with Wayne Township Fire and INTF-1 posted on Twitter Tuesday evening showing some of the damage the Hoosier team encountered in the Florida Keys.

Medical Assistance:
Other Hoosiers are answering the call to help.

Superintendent of Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation, Dr. Shane Robbins, will soon head to South Carolina to assist with medical evacuations.

Robbins served in the United States Army and Indiana National Guard and was notified after Hurricane Irma that he was being activated for disaster relief.

Robbins will focus on medical evacuations for Florida patients affected by Irma’s devastation.

Superintendent Robbins, Courtesy: Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation

“We will accept patients from Florida into Georgia, or if Georgia is not an option we will transfer them to South Carolina,” said Robbins in a statement posted on the school corporation’s website, “We will be located in South Carolina and coordinate patient transfers using military and civilian equipment. Every year we have an exercise with FEMA and the South Carolina Forestry Department, and we simulate mass patient movement. So now we will be enacting the plans.”

Robbins’ deployment is part of the National Disaster Medical System, a federally coordinated health care system and partnership with the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Another Hoosier native is making the trip from Central Indiana to the Gulf.

Cathy Whitlow-Hill is a pediatric paramedic with Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. She’s been volunteering with the Red Cross to offer medical assistance for hurricane relief efforts for years.

This week, Whitlow-Hill will deploy to either Texas or Florida with the Red Cross, and learn her assignment when she steps off the plane Thursday.

Whitlow-Hill first volunteered to assist after Hurricane Katrina. She called it her “best worst experience” but has been drawn to help once again in the wake of Irma.

“After Katrina, people came to the relief stations looking catatonic and lost. They had just lost their homes, possessions and maybe even loved ones. Piece by piece, we witnessed them bloom back into their former selves and come back to life. I want to help people experience that again,” said Whitlow-Hill in a statement.