As a massive hurricane approaches North and South Carolina this week, Alaskans are lining up aid efforts to help with its expected impact.

Meteorologists were warning Wednesday of a “Mike Tyson punch” from the Category 4 hurricane, which could slow just offshore for days and deal a sustained blow to coastal communities. More than 1.7 million people have been ordered to evacuate, with hurricane watches and warnings covering roughly 5.4 million people.

The Red Cross of Alaska is sending volunteers and aid to the hurricane’s expected impact zone, according to spokeswoman Cari Dighton. A total of 11 Alaskans spanning communities from Fairbanks to Sitka will head to the hurricane area.

“It's a very diverse group of people,” Dighton said Tuesday evening. “They'll be working in logistics, in community partnerships, in security, and health services and mental health services, and shelter supervision and shelter workers.”

Red Cross doctrine calls for temporary shelters to stay in place for about 72 hours, Dighton said, to house people as a disaster passes.

“Then we kind of assess the damage and see how many folks can go back home, and we transition those shelters over to emergency shelters that are for a bit longer-term,” Dighton said.

The Red Cross volunteers will spend roughly two weeks on the ground, Dighton said, working long days – potentially 12 to 15 hours. After that, the volunteers will have the chance to opt for additional time or be replaced by others.

In addition, members of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing departed Anchorage’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Wednesday morning in support of humanitarian relief efforts.

A total of 34 Guardsmen are traveling in a C-17 cargo jet and a HC-130J search plane to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

“Having the C-17 capability is key and the rescue capabilities only reside in the Air National Guard in three states: Alaska, California and New York,” said Brig. Gen. Darrin Slaten, the 176th Wing’s commander. “All three states are sending folks to this event.”

In addition to bringing Guardian Angel pararescue teams, crews were loading supplies including boats on trailers onto the planes Wednesday morning.

“The very unique part of this organization is that it has a set of unique capabilities both airlift, strategic airlift like the C-17 aircraft and then the rescue assets,” Slaten said. “We can get pretty close to the storm but our primary focus is to come in behind the storm and rescue people that need it. That could be by airlift or water rescues.”

Gov. Bill Walker mobilized the Guard for the response mission, according to a statement from his office Wednesday afternoon.

“Alaskans stand in support for those who are bracing themselves for Hurricane Florence,” Walker said. “I extend to the East Coast the Alaskan spirit of pulling together and offering help in a time of need. May God watch over our National Guard members, and all who are impacted by Hurricane Florence.”

Alaskans can assist the relief effort without leaving home by donating to the Red Cross. Texting FLORENCE to 90999 will send a $10 donation to the Red Cross, which is also taking donations by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or through its website.

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