NORMAL — Central Illinois has accelerated its response to Hurricane Harvey as Midwest Food Bank has sent five additional semitrailer loads of disaster relief boxes to Texas, and American Red Cross Central and Southern Illinois Region has 72 people on the ground or on their way to Texas and Louisiana.
"We anticipate this relief effort will be ongoing for some time," Phil Hodel, communications director for the Normal-based food bank, said Tuesday.
Hurricane Harvey has been blamed for at least 60 deaths in Texas.
In addition, Red Cross has sent two additional disaster response volunteers to Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Irma, which could hit Florida later this week, said Trish Burnett, regional communications director for the Red Cross Central and Southern Illinois Region. Irma was bearing down on Caribbean islands on Tuesday.
Of the 74 Red Cross responders, 24 are from Central Illinois, Burnett said. Sixty-six of the 74 are volunteers and eight are staff members.
Midwest Food Bank, 2031 Warehouse Road, Normal, sent four semitrailer loads of disaster relief boxes to Houston and Arlington, Texas, during the first week following Harvey's landfall late on Aug. 25. Those boxes were packed by volunteers, including more than 300 people on Aug. 28.
The Salvation Army contacted Midwest Food Bank on Saturday morning, requesting five more semitrailer loads of family food boxes, baby supplies and hygiene products for Beaumont, Texas.
Two loads went out Saturday, two on Sunday and one on Tuesday, Hodel said. The first four were on the ground in Beaumont by Monday, he said.
In addition, on Labor Day, more than 110 volunteers packed 2½ semitrailer loads of disaster relief boxes, Hodel said.
Food bank volunteers assemble, pack and drive semitrailer loads of food and supplies to disaster areas, where they are distributed by The Salvation Army.
The food bank is accepting donations of nonperishable food, baby supplies and hygiene supplies from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at its Warehouse Road location.
In addition, future opportunities to help pack boxes are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 12 and Sept. 19 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 23. Sign up at http://bloomington.midwestfoodbank.org/volunteer-opportunities.
While the number of evacuees seeking refuge in Houston's emergency shelters dwindled 10 days after Harvey struck, many people who have left still face dire housing needs.
Some have returned to public housing complexes inundated with sewage and mud. More than 50,000 went to government-paid hotels, some far away from homes and schools. Others moved in with family and friends.
Harvey did not discriminate, inundating exclusive neighborhoods and low-lying apartments for the poor. Most of the evacuees at the George R. Brown Convention Center were lower-income, but some were from wealthier areas.
Now, about 1,500 remain at the convention center, and several said they were homeless, disabled or from public housing. About 2,800 were at the NRG Center, another convention center that opened after George R. Brown reached double its original capacity.
Harvey struck Texas on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, but brought the worst flooding to Houston and other areas as a tropical storm. The rain totaled nearly 52 inches in some spots.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said 53,630 residents displaced by Harvey are currently staying in government-funded hotel rooms.
FEMA says it has about 560,000 families registered for its housing assistance program.
The temporary housing has been provided for 18,732 households, said FEMA spokesman Bob Howard. Once people are granted the assistance, there is a minimum allotment of 14 days, but that can be extended on a case-by-case basis.
FEMA officials also are weighing other options such as mobile homes should the need arise.