New Yorkers head South to help Hurricane Isaac's victims
As Hurricane Isaac strengthens and wreaks havoc down South, more than 30 New Yorkers are on their way to help those displaced by the storm.
The New York branch of the American Red Cross began sending volunteers to Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas on Friday to set up shelters and prepare for Isaac, then a tropical storm, which elevated to a Category 1 hurricane Tuesday, officials said.
Emilio "Tito" Soto, a retired electrician from the Bronx, arrived in Montgomery, Ala., on Monday. He was waiting for the storm to pass so he could figure out where he would be needed -- likely in Louisiana, he said, but he expects to spend most of today "hunkering down" as the storm is expected to hit land.
"It's like General Patton trying to figure out where to move his troops before battle," said Soto, 67. "A lot of people are going to be displaced from their homes ... our job is to feed them."
Soto, who has three grandchildren, said although he is "a long way from being a teenager," he has volunteered to help in 24 disasters since retiring. He called his desire to help "like an addiction."
"If you've got a week off, come on down to a disaster near you," Soto said. "I recommend it to everybody. It's food for the soul. It makes you grateful for everything you have in life."
Retired FDNY firefighters Gary Demry and Keith Ruby left the Red Cross' Hell's Kitchen offices yesterday morning for Port Allen, La. They plan to stock their van with food, water and supplies and travel to disaster-stricken areas, transporting materials between shelters.
"People run out of the building and we run into the building," said Demry, who retired in 2002 from the FDNY after 34 years. "It's a way of life, I suppose."
When asked if he was concerned for his safety, Demry, who said he was in his mid-60s responded, "Nah, not really ... It's what we do."
Demry, of Holbrook, Long Island, said his desire to help this time, and in past disasters, reminded him of the feeling he got after 9/11.
"You felt that kindred spirit," said Demry, who said he worked on the pile at Ground Zero. "This gives me that feeling. It makes you feel good."
Michael de Vulpillieres of the Red Cross said about 2,400 volunteers have been sent to help potential victims of the hurricane. They provided shelter to nearly 800 people on Monday night, and were expecting more people by week's end.
De Vulpillieres said he was thankful to the New Yorkers who pitch in.
"New Yorkers lend a hand when it's needed. They know all too well the need," he said. "They put their lives on hold to help others."
Soto said he doesn't know what to anticipate once he reaches people in need.
"I have learned not to have any expectations," said Soto, who added, "The absolute worst for me was [Hurricane] Katrina."
Over seven weeks in Louisiana in 2005, "I saw people that lost everything they owned. Everything," he said. "They didn't even have pictures of their children. And that was rough."