APTOPIX Tropical Weather Florida

People stand on the destroyed bridge to Pine Island as they view the damage Oct. 2 in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Matlacha, Fla. Associated Press file

A corps officer with The Salvation Army-Lewiston/Auburn is lending a hand in Florida following Hurricane Ian.

Salvation Army Maj. Jessica Irwin takes a selfie with fellow volunteers in Florida. She left Lewiston last Thursday to help residents there following Hurricane Ian.

Major Jessica Irwin departed the Portland International Jetport on Oct. 6 for a two-week deployment in Port Charlotte, Florida. Irwin, who is known as Jessie, has since been involved in relief efforts as she helps residents and learns firsthand the extent of the devastation.

“With the widespread loss of power, loss of potable water, loss of property and, most significantly, loss of human life, this entire region has been vulnerable,” Irwin, 55, said.

The Category 4 hurricane, the deadliest to strike Florida since 1935, has caused as much as $70 billion in damage, according to estimates by CoreLogic Inc., a California-based property data and analytics provider.

Response to Hurricane Ian, which made landfall Sept. 28 in Florida, has included the American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency, which have assisted in restoring power and returning access to potable — drinkable — water to some areas, Irwin said.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived Oct. 5 in Fort Myers to survey the damage, with the president, standing alongside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking about the state’s long road to recovery and pledging the federal government’s full support.


Irwin’s work has primarily involved distributing hot meals to residents in Port Charlotte and the surrounding communities, providing emotional and spiritual support through religious advocacy, something she and her husband, Maj. David Irwin, practice often through their ministry at 67 Park St. in Lewiston.

“We are given numerous sites daily, and as we are together as a team, I am regularly a listener and a counselor, a person who prays and also a person who advocates,” Irwin said. “We are the hands and the feet of Jesus. God is working through us to bring help and hope, light and support.”

David Irwin said they pull from their previous experience helping in Pennsylvania during Hurricane Ida in 2021.

“We try to meet the needs going on right there. It changes. In emergency disaster services for any organization it’s a living organism as it moves along and you have to be able to roll with the punches,” David Irwin said of the way Salvation Army volunteers approach aid in these situations.

The storm’s death toll has climbed to 119 people, the majority of which have been elderly citizens on the coast who drowned. The unpredictability of the storm’s path and delayed evacuation responses have been attributed to the large loss of life.

“You start with immediate need of feeding and that kind of service for people who have nothing, no power, no water, no food and then gradually people start getting back a little more mobility,” David Irwin said.

The outpouring of love and support has been a tremendous morale booster and effective motivator, Jessica Irwin said. She estimates that on Oct. 8 nearly 20,000 people were without power, and two days later the number had dropped to less than 2,600.

“The residents of Port Charlotte are love incarnate; the professionals that are working to help restore the living conditions are super heroes and it is helping the residents of the Port Charlotte communities stand up with strength to continue to do what needs to be done. The residents are vulnerable and tenacious, they are needing help and yet, generously supporting others. They are taking care of each other in ways that are beyond regular hospitality. Love is a verb … it is compassion in action, with its sleeves rolled and its muscles engaged,” she said.

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