PINELLAS COUNTY - The Disaster News Network says that as of Sunday morning, about 5,000 Florida residents were living in shelters with another 600 or so living in special needs shelters.
Thousands of people are in need of assistance, according to the Disaster News Network, and it will take weeks, even months, before the hardest hit areas can begin to regain a sense of normalcy.
According to information at www.disasternews.net, disaster relief groups, including the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Florida Baptist Disaster Relief, Florida State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) coalition, United Church of Christ's National Disaster Ministries Network, Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, the Lutheran Disaster Response, United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Nazarene Disaster Response, as well as state and national agencies are mobilizing and working round-the-clock to provide relief. Gov. Jeb Bush has declared at least 20 counties federal disaster areas.
How to help
Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are advising people that giving money to a known disaster relief organization is the best way to help. FEMA says that people should avoid sending material goods, such as used clothing, food, water and medical supplies. People should also not travel from out-of-state to give aid without first coordinating with a known support agency.
State officials are giving out the same advise urging people to give cash to "avoid the labor and expense of sorting, packing, transporting and distributing donated goods."
Disasters bring out the best in people, unfortunately, they also often bring out the worst. Officials are warning of fake relief organizations that often solicit for money with no intent of helping the victims of a disaster. According to a release from Charles H. Bronson, state Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner, people should call the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services hotline at (800) HELPFLA (435-7352) if they have any question about donating money to a particular agency.
Bronson warns "bogus charities will prey" on the public, "supposedly seeking funds for storm victims but pocketing the money instead." He urges people to make sure that charitable solicitors are properly registered with the state before donating any money.
People are advised to get in touch with their local churches, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other established organizations to find out ways to help and where to donate money.
Some local contact numbers, include:
American Red Cross
Pinellas County office: (727) 568-5433
Clearwater office: (727) 582-9500
St. Petersburg office: (727) 384-4145
Largo office: Largo (727) 544-5050, ext. 2583
To donate to the American Red Cross by phone, call: (800) HELP-NOW (800) 435-7669.