Norwich man among Red Cross volunteers helping with Hurricane Florence

A Norwich man who helped Florida residents clean up after Hurricane Irma last year is one of 20 Connecticut American Red Cross volunteers going to the Carolinas as the powerful Hurricane Florence nears. 

Twenty-eight-year-old Matt Stevens said he began volunteering after he saw the nonprofit’s call for help with Hurricane Harvey, which brought catastrophic flooding to the Houston area late last summer.

Once trained, Stevens went to Fort Myers, Fla., in September and drove a box truck filled with supplies, such as rakes and shovels, that helped people clean up their flood-damaged yards and homes.

He has been helping residents relocate after fires in the greater Norwich area ever since.

“It’s such a rewarding experience,” Stevens said. “A lot of times, we take for granted the things people may not have after a disaster. I love to see the look on people’s faces when I can give them a glimmer of hope in a horrible situation."

The National Hurricane Center said Florence could bring a life-threatening storm surge, exceptionally heavy rainfall and damaging winds to the Carolinas and Virginia beginning Thursday.

South Carolina’s entire coastline and low-lying parts of North Carolina and Virginia have been ordered evacuated.

Florence could hit the Carolinas harder than any hurricane since Hazel, which brought 130 mph winds in 1954, the Associated Press reported.

Stevens, who learned he would be going to Durham, N.C., Monday night, was equal parts excited and nervous Tuesday as he drove with his family to T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I.

During his two-week deployment, Stevens will help run a shelter for those who are evacuating the coast but may not have the means to leave the state. He said the Red Cross can make the shelter longer term if that becomes necessary.

“I’ve never been in a hurricane and I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “But sometimes that’s how it works. The situation is always changing but you have a team with you to help you out if you need it.”

Stevens’ flight, originally scheduled to leave at 1:50 p.m., had been pushed to 2:40 p.m. because of the weather. His two children — a 10-year-old daughter and a soon-to-be 12-year-old son — went along with his wife, Lauren, to see him off.

Stevens said his wife, who delivers flowers and prescriptions for Stop and Shop, helped him prepare for the trip he didn’t know he’d be taking 24 hours earlier.

“With any given storm, there’s a chance of deployment,” he said. “You usually learn the night before that you’re flying out tomorrow. You know what you’re signing up for.”

Others from The Day’s coverage region who are going to the Carolinas include Bruce Smith, an emergency response vehicle driver from Old Lyme; Wayne Dailey, a disaster mental health services manager from Mystic; David Llewellyn, a shelter service advocate from Niantic; Joseph Apicelli, an emergency response vehicle driver from Groton, and Donna Hathaway, a disaster health services manager who typically covers southeastern Connecticut.

The Red Cross said about 3,000 people volunteer in its Connecticut and Rhode Island Region. It expects more will be sent farther down the East Coast in the coming days.

l.boyle@theday.com

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