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Red Cross workers helping in recovery after Florida storms

Eight Stanislaus County residents were scheduled to arrive in Florida today, but not for the Super Bowl in Miami.

The volunteers boarded a plane Saturday afternoon at the Modesto Airport on their way to join the recovery effort in central Florida after thunderstorms and at least one tornado ripped through the middle of the state Friday, killing at least 20 people.

The Stanislaus County Chapter of the American Red Cross deployed the volunteers to assist with the disaster response operation in Lady Lake, Fla. The group will offer, among other things, financial aid.

"I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot of devastation," said Michelle Kaufman, a 35-year-old volunteer from Modesto.

Kaufman, a stay-at-home mom, became part of the Red Cross disaster relief effort at the Astrodome in Houston after watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on TV.

"I felt so useless when I was sitting at home," she said. "I don't have a lot of money to give, so I felt I could give my time."

Jim Money, the chapter's emergency services director, said the volunteers will be on assignment for two weeks or more, depending on the need.

Modesto's Maggie Irons, 47, who has helped in other relief efforts, has prepared herself to see a lot of damage that doesn't come across on TV.

"I'd sign up for anything just so I can help people," she said.

Rebecca Ciszek, the chapter's executive director, said her agency has sent about 570 volunteers to help areas damaged by Hurricane Katrina. She added that the volunteers have done a lot to help victims here at home.

Since July, she said volunteers have responded to about 70fires that displaced 376county residents. They also provided more than $40,000 in emergency shelter, food and clothing assistance.

Brian Rodriguez, 21, of Turlock, said the help the Red Cross gave his family seven years ago inspired him to join the Katrina relief effort and work as a supervisor at a call center in Baton Rouge, La.

"The Red Cross was there for my family when floods hit Salida and they brought us lunch," Rodriguez said.

He said he avoided watching TV coverage of the storms in Florida, where he'll work in damage assessment and meet victims.

"It's better to see it in person," Rodriguez said. "They only show you on TV what they want you to see."

To help with deployment coordination costs, checks can be made out to the Stanislaus County Chapter of the American Red Cross. Write "Florida" in the memo line if you want your check to help with efforts in Florida. Donations also can be made at www.arcscc.org. For more information, call 523-6451.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at 578-2394 or rahumada@modbee.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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