Catholic Charities hosts disaster prep event

OKEECHOBEE — On Saturday, March 30, Catholic Charities Disaster Recovery Program conducted a disaster preparation and recovery event at the Williamson Center at IRSC. Program Director Carol Rodriguez said Catholic Charities serves five counties — Indian River, Okeechobee, St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach. They were established in 1984 as the social service arm of the Palm Beach Diocese. Catholic Charities not only provides immediate relief following a disaster but also offers intermediate and long term recovery help such as home repairs, rent or utility assistance and many others. Outreach Specialist Sara Haas has been going door to door trying to explain their services to people, she said. “There are still homes with blue roofs even after all this time, and Catholic Charities can help.” Anyone who is in need of services is encouraged to call 561-360-3324.

There were many other representatives at the event. A representative from Florida’s Poison Control Centers in Tampa was there with information on food safety. She said food in a half-full freezer is safe for up to 24 hours. Food in the refrigerator is safe if the power was out for less than two hours, and food in a full freezer is safe if the power was out for less than 48 hours. In addition, she explained how to make your water safe to drink if it has been contaminated. “Bring water to a rolling boil for one minute. Boiling is the best way to kill bacteria,” she said. But if you can’t boil it, you can treat it with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets or unscented household bleach. She also had information about medication safety, carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, poisonous plants, heat exhaustion and bites and stings from critters and snakes.

Legal Aid — Fair Housing for Okeechobee was represented, as was Area Agency on Aging — Your Aging & Disability Resource Center, Call 211, and a representative from the 2020 Census was there recruiting census takers. “Applying is easy,” she said. “Visit 2020census.gov/jobs to learn more.” Workers must work a minimum of 18 hours a week and maximum of 40. They pay $13.50 per hour, and you can set your own hours as long as you get in the minimum number, she said.

Okeechobee County Emergency Management supplied a list of emergency shelters for Okeechobee:

• Okeechobee Health Department will be a primary shelter but will be a special-needs-only shelter, and you must pre-register, 1728 N.W. Ninth Ave.

Special needs request forms can be found on the county website at co.okeechobee.fl.us/departments/emergency-management/special-needs-program-and-special-needs-registration-request-form.

• South Elementary School will be a primary shelter for the general population, 2468 S.W. Seventh Ave.

• Osceola Middle School is a secondary shelter for the general population, 825 S.W. 28th St.

The following shelters will be opened for the general population only if needed.
• Central Elementary School — 610 S.W. Fifth Ave.
• North Elementary School — 3000 N.W. Tenth Terrace
• Seminole Elementary School — 2693 N.W. 42nd Ave.
• Yearling Middle School — 925 N.W. 23rd Lane

Okeechobee County Emergency Management’s number is 863-763-3212. During a local state of emergency, the citizen emergency line is 863-824-6888.

In addition to the list of shelters, they supplied a very thorough, eight-week recommended shopping list to prepare for storm season so that when a storm approaches, you don’t go into the store and find the shelves empty and your home unprepared. Okeechobee County has an app you can put on your smartphone to help with planning. From your mobile device, go to readydl.com/Okeechobee-county. Select App store if you are using an iPhone or Google Play if you are using an Android, then click on Get.

And last, but not least, Florida Rural Counties C.E.R.T., the Community Emergency Response Team, was there to explain what they do during an emergency. They are a volunteer team, formed during the last hurricane. They man a call center during a disaster. During the last hurricane, there were six women sitting at a table answering questions such as, “Where is the nearest shelter?” said volunteer firefighter Chuck Akers. “It takes a big load off the dispatchers.”

As hurricane season approaches, the most important things you can do are prepare and remain calm.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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