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Idahoans help with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts

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HOUSTON, Texas — Idaho Falls resident LayLa Johnson has been looking forward to a relaxing Yellowstone camping trip all summer. She was planning to go this weekend, but her plans have changed.

Instead, Johnson, a duty officer for the American Red Cross in Idaho and Montana, has volunteered to go to Texas to help with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. She says she will have other opportunities to go to Yellowstone, but there are people in Texas who need her help now.

“I’m fortunate to be available. I don’t have to work and so I have the privilege of being able to serve,” Johnson said.

She’s not alone. Several Idahoans are lending assistance in southeastern Texas where Hurricane Harvey hit over the weekend, causing massive damage along with multiple deaths. The hurricane was later downgraded to a tropical storm.

Lee McCammon, vice president of Air Methods’ North Central Region, said they sent an air ambulance from Idaho Falls to help. It was staffed with two pilots, two paramedics, two nurses and an aviation maintenance technician from the Idaho area. They help evacuate hospitals and nursing homes affected by Harvey.

Air Methods has a total of 17 assets dedicated to hurricane relief, McCammon said.

“Our goal is to save lives,” he said.

The Red Cross sent at least five volunteers, including Johnson, from Idaho, said Matt Ochsner, a communications director in the Idaho and Montana area, adding that they may send more in coming days.

“We have lots of volunteers and staff ready to go at a moment’s notice,” he said, noting that the situation is changing constantly.

Ochsner said they also sent an emergency response vehicle from Idaho carrying food, water and comfort items for those who have been displaced.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also sent water, hygiene and cleanup kits to a regional bishop’s storehouse near Houston to help those in need, according to a news release. The church has also offered its buildings for shelter and staging areas.

“All missionaries are safe, though several missions have been affected. Significant precautions were taken before Hurricane Harvey’s arrival to help missionaries remain safe,” according to the church’s news release, which adds that the missionaries will now help with relief efforts in the communities where they serve.

Johnson, who has helped with hurricane, wildfire and flood relief in the past, will be working in life, safety and asset protection while she’s in Texas. That can entail checking on shelter and food facilities, and identifying risks and needs.

Johnson said she would be in Texas for at least two weeks, but as of Monday, she didn’t know where she would be stationed.

The only thing she knew for sure was that there would be a lot of hard work ahead.

“It’s still raining there,” she said. “There’s still a crisis going on.”

Johnson says she may end up sleeping in a shelter herself and will be on call 24/7. She knows she will likely be uncomfortable for a couple of weeks, but she says that’s nothing compared to what the people in Texas are going through. She says individuals — not statistics — will be trying to rebuild their lives long after the storm and news stories have passed.

“These disasters happen at an individual level,” she said, adding that the world has been upended for many of those who have been affected.

While many are traveling to Texas to help in relief efforts, Idahoans can also help from home.

Ochsner said people can donate funds to the American Red Cross online at redcross.org; by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS; or by mail at 5380 West Franklin Road, Boise, Idaho, 83705. They can also donate $10 by texting the word “Harvey” to 90999.

Ochsner also encourages people to donate blood to the Red Cross. They can schedule an appointment through redcross.org.

This article was originally published by the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.

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