Volunteers Aid Victims of Hurricane : Red Cross: Nine Orange County residents, most of them retired, arrive today in the U.S. Virgin Islands for a difficult three-week stint.


Carrying bottles of fresh water, flashlights, granola bars and the clothes they can fit in their bags, nine Orange County American Red Cross volunteers will land in the U.S. Virgin Islands today to aid victims of Hurricane Marilyn.

The volunteers--including nurses, counselors, a minister, and disaster assessment specialists--all responded to an emergency call by the Red Cross.

The organization is asking for Red Cross volunteers trained in disaster relief who are willing to endure harsh conditions such as lack of potable water, sporadic food supplies, no electricity, and extreme humidity during a three-week stint on the islands.

"We just want to be involved and help people, and this is a way to do it and it's very rewarding," said Tom Harrison of Yorba Linda during the group's Monday briefing at local headquarters.

Harrison, a 61-year-old retired Orange County deputy sheriff, is going with his wife, Jackie, 54. The two will assess damage to homes and other buildings, he said.

"It's going to be very intense for them," said Red Cross Vice Chairman Priscilla Schoch. "But I think they have the heart and the soul, and I hope they have the stamina."

Schoch said conditions are so harsh that volunteers are having to carry in enough clean water for at least three days and take high-energy foods in case supplies run short. They may also have to live in tents or damaged buildings, she said.

During the briefing, the volunteers filled small boxes and bags with bottles of water and food bars that were laid out on a table for them.

The group, made up largely of retired residents, will be joined by three others later this week and are among the first to leave from Orange County. Schoch said the nine will fly to Atlanta and then to St. Thomas in a military aircraft.

So far, 273 Red Cross volunteers from across the country have landed in the Virgin Islands. Schoch said she expects that as many as 60 more volunteers from Orange County will eventually join the effort.

The 51,000 residents of St. Thomas lost water, electricity and telephone service when Marilyn struck the islands Saturday. At least 8,000 dwellings on that island and 4,000 homes in St. Croix were destroyed or severely damaged, according to Red Cross workers already on the scene.

Mitzi Bond, a part-time nurse at West Anaheim Medical Center, said this will be her first volunteer stint to the Caribbean for the Red Cross. Bond said she isn't worried about what she might encounter.

"I feel like I have an expertise, and I should share it," said Bond, 57, of Cypress. "We've been blessed in life, and it's something we should give back."

Bennie Flint, 70, of Tustin said he also feels little fear.

"I probably don't know enough to worry about it at this point," the Baptist minister said with a smile. "I guess I'm going because these people need help and I have the time and still enough energy, I think, to help."

The U.S. Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory, were purchased by the United States from Denmark in 1917.

The Red Cross is asking for donations for the relief effort. Checks can be made out to the American Red Cross, and marked "disaster relief." They should be mailed to P.O. Box 11364, Santa Ana, CA 92711-1364.

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