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Spokane Valley couple volunteers with Irma evacuees in Florida

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 12, 2017, 10:51 p.m.

Janet and Chuck Boehme stand in their Spokane Valley home Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. The couple, who are both retired, volunteer much of their spare time to the Red Cross. They respond to local emergencies but also travel to large regional emergencies. The couple drove a Red Cross van from Kennewick to North Carolina for recent storms and flooding. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Janet and Chuck Boehme stand in their Spokane Valley home Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. The couple, who are both retired, volunteer much of their spare time to the Red Cross. They respond to local emergencies but also travel to large regional emergencies. The couple drove a Red Cross van from Kennewick to North Carolina for recent storms and flooding. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Just as Hurricane Irma worked its way up the Florida coast, a Spokane Valley couple who volunteer for American Red Cross drove toward the storm to support an evacuation center in Tallahassee, Florida.

Chuck and Janet Boehme departed Spokane last week in a Red Cross vehicle, driving for 10 hours a day. They arrived around noon Sunday and first helped at a middle school evacuation center with 40 people as strong winds and heavy rain hit.

“There were quite a lot of downed trees,” said Chuck Boehme, 72. Electricity was lost, but emergency power provided some lighting. “This ended up being a pretty big windstorm where we were. There was a lot of torrential rain.”

“It was a tropical storm by the time it hit the Tallahassee area,” said Janet Boehme, 73.

By Monday morning, they were sent 18 miles away as volunteers for another evacuation center at a Crawfordville elementary school, where about 12 people remained who were special needs individuals, including some with mobility issues.

The couple headed toward Orlando on Tuesday afternoon and saw more outages, store shortages and heavy traffic. They expect Wednesday to head to coastal areas to give meals to affected residents from the specially equipped American Red Cross feeding truck they drove from Spokane.

“They’ll send us out to a coastal area or where there’s flooding,” Janet Boehme said.

“We do anticipate we’ll be feeding people,” she said. “The Southern Baptist (Disaster Relief) bring in mobile kitchens on semitrucks. They prepare the hot meals that we deliver, so I’m sure they’re setting up their food kitchens now.”

A mobile kitchen can prepare thousands of meals a day that go into American Red Cross feeding truck containers to keep food hot or cold for hours.

Most of Irma’s full fury hit the Keys, when the storm blew ashore as a Category 4 hurricane Sunday morning with 130 mph winds. Irma weakened into a tropical storm and finally left Florida on Monday after a run up the entire 400-mile length of the state.

At the places they’ve helped, people are grateful for support from the Red Cross and from other agencies, Chuck Boehme said.

“We were impressed with Tallahassee police and sheriff’s office,” he said. “They were here about every hour checking on people at the centers.”

“Today, a lot of people are trying to get back to their homes,” added Janet Boehme by phone Tuesday afternoon. “We have heard that diesel is hard to find. We have to be sure to keep our vehicle filled up frequently. There are some shortages in grocery stores.”

“There are a lot of outages we’re seeing. There are hotels that don’t have power. There’s a lot of traffic going south.”

The Boehmes also volunteered after hurricanes Matthew and Sandy, but this is the first time they’ve arrived just as one was arriving. They’re aware of at least two other American Red Cross volunteers from Spokane and North Idaho.

Several Red Cross helpers from the Spokane area still are in Houston helping, they said. The Boehmes expect to volunteer in Florida for a two-week commitment.