Crews from the Augusta area are ready to step in and help with Hurricane Irene relief. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 25, 2011)
News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011
AIKEN, S.C. -- On Thursday, Hurricane Irene gained even more momentum when it became a Category 3 storm.
It is packing a punch with winds of more than 111 miles per hour and is scheduled to make landfall early Saturday.
There is already a mass exodus from North Carolina's outer banks as thousands of people have already evacuated the area.
It's the calm before the storm and while at home we dodged a bullet, it's more of a reason to head out to help.
Here at home, some crews are gearing up to head straight toward it.
Some Aiken crews know that with a storm this big and dangerous, whatever coast it hits will need all the help it can get.
"Contact, conference calls and communication is the key thing here," said Aiken Red Cross Disaster Services Manager Joey Hutto.
It's exactly what some emergency crews are doing here in Aiken.
"What we're doing right now is kind of gauging right now where the hurricane is," Hutto said.
They are gauging, anticipating and prepping volunteers. One local Red Cross volunteer is already deployed and there are many others standing by.
"If there is anything positive that comes from a disaster or a hurricane, such as this, it's the awareness that it brings," Hutto said. "We have had already several people call the chapter asking how they can help."
Along with the volunteers, the emergency response vehicle, or ERV, is also on stand-by. The Red Cross says it could leave as early as Friday.
Across town, ambulance service Capital City is also prepared.
"We have participated in the last seven years -- we typically send about five to eight units and they'll be gone anywhere up to a month," said Capital City Ambulance Service President Tom Adkins.
They are waiting for FEMA's cue to deploy.
"The next couple of days are total bedlam. If you can imagine the parking lot of a coliseum with about 500 ambulances and 15,000 people," Adkins said. "We are divided into small groups and we'll go anywhere from 200 miles from that one base."
A task both crews are geared up for.
"I would guarantee this would be on the road Friday or Saturday," Hutto said.
Adkins said: "We're ready."
Both Capital City and the Red Cross have been on standby since Monday. The Red Cross says they usually get placed on this type of alert about every four months.
If you would like to donate to the Red Cross, click here.