BLOOMINGTON — The "monster" that devastated the Florida Panhandle is being countered by helping hands from Central Illinois.

Hurricane Michael, with its sudden ferocity prompting the "monster" moniker from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, has caused at least two deaths, widespread damage and power outages in the Panhandle and to the north. About 900,000 homes and business in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas remained without power Thursday as Michael, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm, churned northeastward.

But American Red Cross Serving Central and Southern Illinois, Normal-based Midwest Food Bank and Bloomington-based Corn Belt Energy already are responding, just as their efforts following last month's Hurricane Florence in North Carolina are wrapping up.

Eighteen people representing the Red Cross in Central and southern Illinois, including four from McLean County, have been deployed for Michael relief, Red Cross Regional Communications Director Maria Henneberry said Thursday. They are flying to Orlando, Fla., then will be dispatched to the Panhandle, where they will be providing relief between Mexico Beach and Panama City, she said.

"Initially, we will make sure people have the food and shelter they need," Henneberry said. Nationwide, Red Cross has mobilized hundreds of volunteers.

The effort is underway, even as Red Cross volunteers — including some from Central and southern Illinois — continue to provide help in the Carolinas nearly a month after Hurricane Florence, Henneberry said. At its peak, the Red Cross region had 68 disaster relief workers on Florence relief.

Corn Belt Energy crews are on their way to Red Springs, N.C., where they will assist Lumbee River EMC with repairs and restoring electricity. Corn Belt Energy has sent eight linemen, two bucket trucks and two digger derricks, said Corn Belt Director of Communications Hillary Cherry. 

Michael will impact some of the same areas that were flooded by Hurricane Florence, Cherry said. Corn Belt sent crews to Fayetteville, N.C., to restore electricity after Florence.

Electric co-ops such as Lumbee River continue to experience wet ground conditions from Florence and are bracing for extended outages resulting from Michael's high winds and heavy rains, she said.

Midwest Food Bank has four semitrailer trucks loaded with food ready to transport when requested by its partner, The Salvation Army, said food bank Communications Director Phil Hodel.

"The first (semi) load could go out Saturday," Hodel said.

"We have been in communication with The Salvation Army but they haven't requested a load yet," Hodel said. "The damage is so great, they haven't been able to get into the areas to set up relief efforts."

The food bank is anticipating providing 20 to 25 loads of food and relief supplies to The Salvation Army, Hodel said.

The food bank shipped 17 loads of food and supplies for Florence relief, he said.

Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech


Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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