Residents head south to offer aid

GREENFIELD — Hancock County residents are headed south this week to help with hurricane relief efforts in Florida.

Among them are a local school superintendent and linemen from NineStar Connect.

Hurricane Irma struck the Florida Keys on Sunday as a Category 4 cyclone carrying winds of 130 mph that devastated the low-lying islands, according to The Associated Press. Through Monday, the storm, which weakened to a tropical storm as it moved north, blew across Florida’s west coast and into Georgia.

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As teams deploy to help aid the victims, some Hancock County residents are being called to action, while other local teams just returning from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey in Texas are waiting to see if they, too, will be needed.

Evacuating patients

Tuesday morning, Mt. Vernon Community Schools Superintendent Shane Robbins got the call to head to South Carolina, where he’ll spend a week or so organizing medical evacuations from Florida to safer hospitals and health facilities in more northern states.

Robbins serves as administration chief for the Federal Coordinating Center in Columbia, South Carolina. The FCC helps coordinate medical evacuations as part of the National Disaster Medical System, a partnership among the U.S. Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs departments.

A member of the U.S. Army and Indiana National Guard since 1987, Robbins has significant training as a medical service officer.

As Hurricane Irma rolled toward Florida late last week, Robbins knew it would be likely he’d be called into action.

He’ll be stationed in South Carolina for about seven days, helping to coordinate the transfer of patients from Florida health facilities that have lost power or been damaged to Georgia or South Carolina so patients can continue receiving treatment.

Annually, the team he works with conducts an exercise to prepare for a natural disaster. Now, the group is enacting those plans, which Robbins will help lead.

While he’s away, Robbins will be able to communicate with his staff daily, he said. He’s worked with his administration team to fill in for him while he’s gone, he said.

Restoring power

Bryan Giddings and Austin Gearlds, employees of NineStar Connect, departed from Greenfield on Tuesday morning to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where they’ll wait to be directed to Florida or Georgia.

Gearlds said they expect to spend the next two weeks repairing electric lines in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

An estimated 13 million people in Florida — or two-thirds of the state — were without power Tuesday, The Associated Press reported. For some, it will be weeks before their lights turn back on.

Gearlds, who works from the ground while Giddings serves as lead lineman, said he’s eager to put his expertise to work to help the hurricane-struck region.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.