Darrell Fuller, executive director of the Oregon PHCC, wrapped up PHCCCONNECT2022 by attending the closing ceremonies in which the next roster of PHCC leaders are officially installed. Fuller, himself, had been the president of the Association Executive Council and took the oath as the immediate past president at the ceremonies.
But the next morning, a Saturday, instead of a long cross-country flight back home, Fuller hopped a shorter flight to Tampa, Florida, to help out as a volunteer member of the Red Cross Disaster Relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
Fuller, who’s been with the Oregon PHCC for the past 10 years and a disaster relief volunteer with the Red Cross for the past five years, spent the next two weeks stationed at a clothing retailer’s headquarters and warehouse in hard-hit Ft. Myers, which had been turned into a shelter for residents.
“It’s hot, it’s humid and there are a lot of people who need a lot of help,” Fuller told us over a Zoom call just a couple of days into his tour.
“I’d long planned to be in Charlotte for CONNECT,” he said, “but in the run up to the conference, of course, there was news about Hurricane Ian looking like it would strike Florida during the conference. So I emailed the Red Cross and told them I could deploy directly from Charlotte if they needed me.”
Fuller said he quickly got a reply back to “come on down.”
The Red Cross certainly did need Fuller and everyone else who helped out. Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida on Sept. 28 just short of a Category 5 storm — the strongest classification on the hurricane Scale. With sustained winds of 150 miles per hour, Hurricane Ian was the fifth most powerful storm to ever hit the country.
“This is Ground Zero,” Fuller said of Ft. Myers. “I’ve seen just absolute devastation, especially from what I’ve seen of manufactured home parks, roofs torn off and sheet metal car ports that jut get turned into tin foil.”
The number of storm-related deaths rose to more than 100, eight days after the storm made landfall. According to reports from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, 92 of those deaths were in Florida. Five people were also killed in North Carolina, three in Cuba and one in Virginia. The torrents of rain turned streets into gushing rivers. Backyard waterways overflowed into neighborhoods, sometimes by more than a dozen feet, tossing boats onto yards and roadways. Officials estimate Ian caused more than $50 billion in property damages and left millions without power.
“We have almost a hundred trucks that go out every day to feed people in their communities,” Fuller added. “So we fill them with food and water and go out the residents who are working to clean up their homes and make sure they have something to eat and cool water to drink.”
Fuller also handed out cleaning supplies, including rakes, shovels, tarps and gloves.
“Anything that people might need,” Fuller explained, “because they’re just starting to recover.”
As it moved inland and across Florida, Hurricane Ian weakened to a tropical storm but regained strength over the Atlantic Ocean, curving toward South Carolina. The hurricane made final landfall as a Category 1 storm near Georgetown, S.C., with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph on Sept. 30.
The Red Cross continues to be on the ground providing both feeding and sheltering services to those still impacted by Hurricane Ian.
“As of 11/10, there were still more than 500 people in Red Cross shelters,” Fuller wrote to us in a November email.
Fuller added that The Red Cross is always looking for new members. To learn more, anyone can go to RedCross.org/volunteer or call 800-Red Cross. Donations to the Red Cross can be made at RedCross.org, by calling 800-Red Cross or by texting IAN to 90999 for a $10 donation.
In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, the PHCC also activated its Disaster Relief Fund. If anyone still needs assistance or would like to donate to help, please log to bit.ly/3WClNPK for more information on both.