More Red Cross volunteers heading south as coast braces for Florence

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Walker Townsend, at right, from the Isle of Palms, S.C., fills a sand bag while Dalton Trout, in center, holds the bag at the Isle of Palms municipal lot where the city was giving away free sand in preparation for Hurricane Florence at the Isle of Palms S.C., Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While thousands of people are fleeing the southeastern United States to get clear of Hurricane Florence’s path, others are heading right towards it.

The Category 4 storm is expected to make landfall Thursday in the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland, all of which have declared states of emergency. More than a million people along the coast have been ordered to evacuate and those further inland are urged to board up their homes and businesses and brace for impact.

Florence may strengthen to a Category 5 hurricane with winds greater than 155 mph in addition to heavy rain and devastating flooding and storm surges.

TRACKING FLORENCE: In-Depth Coverage & Hurricane Tracker » | Pinpoint Weather Blog » | Detailed 7-Day Forecast » | Ocean & Bay Forecast » | Storm Ready Resource Guide » | Follow the Pinpoint Weather Team on Twitter »

Two Red Cross volunteers from Rhode Island, Joyce Calore and Bob Partington, left Tuesday for South Carolina, where Calore will be helping at emergency shelters while Partington has been assigned to operate an emergency rescue vehicle.  They’re expected to spend at least two weeks there. 

“Little nervous but looking forward to getting the job done,” Partington said.

Calore has only been with the Red Cross since June. This is her first major storm as a volunteer.

“A little apprehensive but again, excited,” Calore said. “Just want to get in there and get things accomplished and get the people in and safe.”

“I don’t know anyone in that area but I’m just happy that we’re going to help,” she added

The Red Cross said three more local volunteers learned Tuesday they will be heading down to Durham, North Carolina: Kenneth Sliney of Chepachet, Randy Matsch of Portsmouth, and Judy Palani of Fall River. The organization said Sliney will be a “feeding service associate” while Matsch and Palani will act as “shelter service associates.”

The Red Cross anticipates more local volunteers will be deployed down south in the coming days. Visit the Red Cross’s website to become a volunteer or make a donation.

In the meantime, flights from the Carolinas have been arriving at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick. On one of those flights was Roland Grenon, a Rhode Island native who now lives in Myrtle Beach. He said he’s glad to be out of Florence’s path, especially after stopping at the store Monday night.

“The shelves were empty,” Grenon recalled. “A lot of paper products, a lot of water and canned goods were off the shelves.”

Grenon said he planned this trip to visit his mother months ago and called the timing lucky and convenient.

“I do feel a little better being here in Rhode Island,” he said.

Former 2010 Republican nominee for Rhode Island governor John Robitaille and his wife moved to Charleston, South Carolina. He said they’re preparing to ride out the storm at home and will make a decision Wednesday on if they will evacuate.

“Just like we used to prepare for blizzards back in Rhode Island, we went and got bread and milk and ice,” he said. “We’re the last county south that’s been given the order to evacuate. So we’re in it, but we’re sort of in that gray zone, so we’ll decide tomorrow whether we’re going to stay or evacuate.”

About three hours north of Robitaille, Laura Lee and Ben Handel are preparing to ride out the hurricane in Wilmington, North Carolina. The couple is originally from Mattapoisett and moved south six years ago.

“The city, county and state are doing everything right,” Laura Lee said.

The couple said they aren’t too worried about the storm because their home sits 19 feet above sea level. But despite how calm they are, they say you can feel the fear in town from other residents.

“A lot of traffic. A lot of empty shelves in the grocery stores,” Ben said. “Water was the first thing to go. Bread was right behind it.”

Southern New England is expected to be spared most of the hurricane’s impacts outside of some rough surf and rip currents, but the storm will need to be monitored closely.

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