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Florida: Too soon for homeowners to return to disaster zone

Debris from homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael litters the ground Thursday in Mexico Beach, Fla.

Anthony Summers and his partner received the call at 4 a.m. Friday. They and a second crew from inHealth Integrated Care of Valparaiso were headed to Pensacola, Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

About two hours out from the Panhandle city and traveling in a caravan of ambulances from various companies and states, Summers said Friday morning they hadn't seen any damage associated with Michael as of yet.

Hurricane Michael came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 155 mph early Wednesday afternoon near Mexico Beach, Florida, devastating the community. As of Friday morning, authorities are reporting 12 confirmed deaths throughout the region due to the hurricane.

As emergency medical workers headed to the disaster area, Kristin Marlow-Kellemen, executive director of the American Red Cross' Northwest Indiana's region, was working to organize volunteers from the Region to head south.

Marlow-Kellemen, who responded to South Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, said two Northwest Indiana residents are in or headed to Tallahassee, Florida. She said 50 Hoosiers, some from the Region, are still in the Carolinas assisting victims of Florence.

Hurricane Michael is considered a Category 7 disaster by the American Red Cross, she said, anticipating many other area residents will be headed to the affected areas of Florida, Georgia and Alabama shortly.

inHealth sent two ambulances with four EMTs south. They left about midnight Wednesday night and arrived in a church parking lot in Stone Mountain, Georgia early Thursday afternoon.

They got a hint where they would be headed when a  Federal Emergency Management Agency worker pasted a large "F" on their ambulance yesterday. Other ambulances are headed to Georgia.

This isn't Summers first response to a natural disaster. A 19-year EMT, he responded in the wake of 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.

Even with his experience, he's not sure what the crews will face once they reach their destination.

"We could be setting up things like triage or transporting patients," he said.

"I want to help my community and do what I am trained to do," said Summers. "I want to be part of the cause to help. If the shoe were on the other foot, I would want them to help us."

"inHealth Ambulance holds those affected by Hurricane Michael in our thoughts and our prayers. During these difficult hours of this natural disaster, inHealth is deploying resources to aid in the relief of those remaining in the disaster zone," said company owner Ron Donahue.

"Our medical professionals are traveling down at this moment to aid the affected citizens and their families. The inHealth team is dedicated to serving those in the most need across the country and we are humbled to be a trusted by the Federal Emergency Management Association to provide relief for those affected by natural disasters across the country and we are proud of our emergency medical service personnel who have left home and answered the call to serve," said Donahue.

inHealth, as with other ambulance services, contracts with FEMA to respond to natural disasters. The company sent another crew to North Carolina recently in response to Hurricane Florence.

"We will send folks were they are needed," said Marlow-Kellemen, adding that many still in the Carolinas will likely head to the Hurricane Michael response.

She said she's not sure what the volunteers will be doing, it depends on the needs once they reach their destinations.

The Times has not been able to reach Region native Sherri Lopez featured in an article earlier this week prior to Michael's landfall. Authorities are reporting a lack of cell and Internet service throughout the area. 

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.