Hurricane Ian aid

Sheep Dog Impact Assistance volunteers clear tree debris after Hurricane Ian. SDIA was one of a handful of Northwest Arkansas-based organizations to help clean up Florida in the aftermath of the storm.

Northwest Arkansas nonprofits and businesses assisted Floridians affected by Hurricane Ian by collecting donations and sending volunteer groups. Walmart, Southwestern Electric Power Company, Sheep Dog Impact Assistance and American Red Cross Rogers were among the organizations in NWA that participated.

The Category 4 storm made landfall in Florida on Cayo Costa Island on Sept. 28. There have been 2,500 rescues made, 2.6 million reports of power outages and the death toll has exceeded 100. Most deaths occured in Florida but some have been reported in Cuba and South Carolina, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a news release.

With residents in a state of panic, stores across Florida closed during the natural disaster.

Robert Arrieta, a senior manager for Walmart media relations said in an email that 250 Walmart facilities had closed during the hurricane, but all stores have since reopened.

“We also prioritized the safety of our associates, making available Walmart’s Disaster Displacement Assistance for those in mandatory evacuation zones prior to the storm,” Arrieta said. “That service has since expanded to associates in other affected areas. Additionally, we’ve committed up to $6 million in grants, in-kind contributions and matching donor campaigns to provide additional help to Floridians.”

Walmart has received $2.5 million in donations from members and customers. Company officials will continue to donate water, hot meals and health care to people affected. Customer donations to aid in this closed Monday, Arrieta said.

NWA nonprofit members of Sheep Dog Impact Assistance and American Red Cross Rogers have also been aiding in the relief effort for impacted areas.

Sheep Dog Impact Assistance is a national nonprofit headquartered in Rogers. Its purpose is to provide services to help law enforcement, veterans and first responders. Those services include volunteer events, opportunities for physical activity and mental health resources.

SDIA sent a disaster recovery team to Fort Myers, Florida, on Oct. 2 to assist in recovery efforts. The group finished their work Oct. 5 and returned home Friday.

“We had 149 volunteers and that was from eight Sheep Dog Impact teams and chapters which we have several across the nation,” SDIA financial administrator Tim Hocut said. “They worked 1,788-plus hours in those days.”

During the disaster team’s trip, members were able to get 35 properties cleared, 99 trees removed, and 62 structures tarped, Hocut said. SDIA is still taking donations in forms of Lowe’s and Walmart gift cards and money.

“We have a team that’s actually just north of Tampa,” Hocut said. “They’re gonna assess the situation and see what other nonprofits and FEMA comes in and does and then we’ll assess it from there to see if we can make it back down there and make a significant impact that we’re trying to do.”

The American Red Cross in Rogers is taking donations as well to support chapters in Florida. Those who wish to donate can do so by phone, mail or online payment. In addition to donations, Red Cross officials are looking for volunteers who will work in shelter services and disaster health care services.

As Florida has been rebuilding, DeSantis has requested a major disaster declaration which gives 30 days of additional funding for disaster relief. President Joe Biden approved his request Sept. 29, giving Florida a total of 60 days with federal funding for any debris removal and emergency measures.

Southwestern Electric Power Company sent more than 300 personnel to prepare for the hurricane Sept. 27. One crew from the Fayetteville district accompanied crews from Texas and Louisiana.

The crews consisted of 200 contractors and 106 employees from these areas who were tasked to aid in restoration efforts. The company assisted in restoring power in affected areas to help utility companies who had been there in SWEPCO’s time of need.

Although the hurricane did not directly impact the land in NWA, it affected many community members who have families affected by the Florida hurricane..

Esther Beller, a freshman, said her grandparents were stuck in Orlando, Florida, during the peak of Hurricane Ian.

“Their hotel immediately was filled up by people fleeing from Tampa,” Beller said. “For four days, they were locked into the hotel.”

Hotel employees prepared game rooms and movie rooms to accommodate guests during the storm.

Her grandparents, Mike and Pam Carroll, were able to make it back home to Rogers on Oct. 1.

After the catastrophic damage of Hurricane Ian, people nationwide are still working hard to bring normality back to Floridians.

“When the cameras go away, we will still be here to help rebuild,” DeSantis said in a tweet.

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