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Disaster relief organizations are preparing to help areas hit by Hurricane Ian

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Hurricane Ian is slamming into the Florida Gulf Coast with winds topping 150 miles an hour. FEMA, the National Guard, utility crews and relief organizations are preparing to go into the hardest-hit areas just as soon as they can. NPR's David Schaper reports that a complex logistics operation is underway.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Forecasters call Hurricane Ian a devastating storm that will likely cause catastrophic damage across parts of Florida. Nonetheless, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell says the agency is ready.

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DEANNE CRISWELL: And I can confidently say that we have the right teams and we have the right resources in place and ready to meet the needs of those that we are charged to serve.

SCHAPER: Criswell says search and rescue teams are standing by, ready to respond from Miami. There's fuel, generators and personnel pre-staged inside and outside of the hardest-hit areas with trucks and heavy equipment ready and waiting.

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CRISWELL: We are continuing to move in equipment as the governor asks for more equipment. I believe today he asked for more high-water vehicles and additional rescue capabilities, and we are moving that in.

SCHAPER: More than 600,000 homes and businesses are already without power. Scott Aaronson heads up disaster preparedness for the industry group the Edison Electric Institute. He says there are some 33,000 utility workers from two dozen states ready to respond with some of them waiting just outside of harm's way.

SCOTT AARONSON: They have areas where they are already pre-positioning crews, and they are pre-staging all the equipment and material that they're going to need. And these are places that they know are not prone to flooding, are going to be in an area that is less likely to be impacted.

SCHAPER: And Aaronson says more crews are pre-positioned further away in Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. Meanwhile, nonprofit relief organizations have worked with state and federal officials to fill up warehouses in the region with food, water, clothing and other essentials. Again, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

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CRISWELL: We have 3.7 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water staged in Alabama, and there are multiple volunteer agencies that are staged and prepared to perform feeding operations as soon as it is safe to do so.

SCHAPER: The Red Cross has 500 responders already staffing Florida shelters with room and supplies for as many as 60,000 evacuees. Another 2,500 responders are standing by to go in by the weekend. But all that pre-positioning of these critical relief supplies and personnel takes time and money, says Kathy Fulton, executive director of the American Logistics Aid Network.

KATHY FULTON: Sixty to 80% of humanitarian spending actually goes towards logistics, and that's very evident in disaster response.

SCHAPER: Fulton says a storm like Ian, with the forecast of its track constantly moving, makes such logistics planning even more difficult. Add to that a nationwide supply chain crunch that could impact disaster response.

FULTON: We think that the capacity will be there. What that means for timing of deliveries, you know, and what that means for availability of donated resources is really - it's really up to the storm at this point. It depends on how large the damage area is.

SCHAPER: And that will become more apparent over the next few days. David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.