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Las Vegas Red Cross volunteers arrive ahead of ‘unsurvivable’ hurricane

Updated August 26, 2020 - 11:09 am

Three Red Cross volunteers from Las Vegas are waiting in a Louisiana hotel room, ready to provide relief after Hurricane Laura makes landfall Wednesday.

Emma Empey, a former medical assistant turned Red Cross volunteer, said she joined just after the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting on the Strip because she wanted to invest her time in humanitarian work. Since 2017, she’s aided with five hurricanes and countless fires.

“I love to be out on the front lines,” she said Tuesday evening from Baton Rouge. “I go to church and I’m in the back row, but when it comes to disasters I’m front row.”

Empey, 57, moved to Las Vegas with her husband in 2000 while he was in the Army. Her husband works at Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center but is looking forward to joining her on the front lines when he retires.

“The people I work with at the Red Cross are wonderful people, very giving,” she said. “They’re there to help with the clients.”

Described as ‘unsurvivable’

Laura rapidly gained strength Wednesday, raising fears that it could come ashore as a Category 4 hurricane with a 20-foot storm surge that forecasters said would be “unsurvivable” and capable of sinking entire communities. Authorities implored coastal residents of Texas and Louisiana to flee.

The storm grew nearly 70% in power in just 24 hours to reach Category 3 status, and it continued to draw energy from the warm Gulf of Mexico waters. The system was on track to arrive late Wednesday or early Thursday as the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. so far this year.

Empey said Hurricane Marco landed Monday night with very little damage, but the Louisiana area is already feeling the effects of Laura with large dark clouds rolling in and residents crowding into stores to buy supplies.

Satellite images show Laura’s remarkable intensification into “a formidable hurricane” that can smash homes and sink entire communities with a storm surge reaching as high as 20 feet (6.10 meters), the National Hurricane Center said.

Laura is expected to make landfall in the middle of the night, adding anohter dimension to the danger.

Volunteers moved

Empey expects to be deployed by Wednesday night.

Red Cross teams in Beaumont, Texas, were evacuated from the area Tuesday to Baton Rouge, leaving about 200 volunteers standing by with Empey waiting for orders to deploy.

“They keep us busy so we’re not sitting around. We’re always educating ourselves more,” Empey said. “We’ve done quite a bit of additional classes for learning the COVID protocols with the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”

Empey and her colleagues had to pass medical tests before being approved to travel. Making sure the people she’s helping are protected from a pandemic and a hurricane at the same time is just an extra step in her work.

When the hurricane passes, she and the other volunteers will be sent to damaged areas to help shelter displaced residents from flooded homes and pass out supplies. So far, Empey said, residents seem prepared and well versed in hurricane procedures.

“It doesn’t seem like chaos because they’ve been through this before,” she said.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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