Israeli and Jewish emergency and humanitarian relief services are preparing for the worst scenario in Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma, which is expected to strike the state Sunday.
The Israel Rescue Coalition (IRC) and United Hatzalah are deploying search-and-rescue teams, as well as EMS and psychotrauma units, to Florida.
“Our teams have already begun assembling data and connecting with local teams on the ground in Florida as well as the Israeli consulate and getting regular updates and assessments from the ground,” said Dov Maisel, director of international operations for the IRC and vice president of United Hatzalah.
Florida is home to the third-largest Jewish community—an estimated 655,000 people—in the U.S. Many Jewish residents of the state have evacuated in advance of the storm.
“We started getting requests from people who were looking to come once Irma started to become a reality. And we realized that probably a lot of people want to be in a neighborhood that observes Shabbos and keeps kosher,” Rabbi Adam Starr, leader of the Young Israel of Toco Hills congregation in Atlanta, which is hosting some 150 Jewish evacuee families, told The Jerusalem Post.
Israel’s ZAKA International Rescue Unit, Hatzalah Miami and the Amudim organization have established two command centers to offer hurricane assistance to local communities in Florida. These command centers are equipped with generators, sleeping bags, canned food, water and emergency equipment.
“ZAKA volunteers are currently spread out across Florida and Houston (following Hurricane Harvey there) and, if necessary, we will send volunteers to other areas as well,” ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav said.
“These volunteers are more concerned with helping others than thinking about themselves,” he said. “They are there, in the name of the Jewish people, to help and show real solidarity in keeping with our values and the promise that ZAKA has taken to help everyone, Jew, Christian or Muslim. ZAKA will help all those in need, regardless of race, religion or gender.”